Portland councilors eye music venue, public dock for state pier

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PORTLAND — The City Council in September is likely to approve several proposed improvements for the Maine State Pier.

Councilors at a workshop Monday agreed with recommendations from the Community Development Committee for short-term renovations at the city-owned pier. Those improvements include removing a portion of the large blue transit shed at the end of the pier to make more room for summer music performances and expanding the public boat landing.

The city would spend about $2.4 million in improvements at the end of the pier, which would also include rehabilitating the deck for public use. The CDC anticipates limiting large public performances to about 60 a summer and are exploring the best way to approach having a music venue on the pier.

“I’d like to hear from people in the (concert) industry,” said Councilor Kevin Donoghue.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman, the chairwoman of the CDC, said the committee has asked staff to explore how management of the performance space would work.

Councilor John Anton expressed concern that an extended public boat landing at the end of the pier could turn into a “party boat gathering spot.”

The short-term plan – which would happen during the next three years – for the rest of the pier includes rehabilitating the remaining transit shed into space for marine storage, cruise ship support and retail and restaurants. Scooter and bike rentals, a covered public gathering spot and some upper-story office space are also envisioned.

The 1,000-foot berth would remain a place for cruise ships, military ships and tug boats. The city may put $250,000 in Capital Improvements Project funding into maintenance improvements such at bollards and supports this year.

The land abutting the pier where cars currently queue for Ocean Gateway would continue to be used for that purpose, although in the long term the city is eyeing a possible mixed use development with public open space there. 

An order establishing the short-term redevelopment plan for the Maine State Pier is expected to go before the council in September for approval. 

The council also heard Monday from city Director of Planning and Urban Development Penny Littell about new flood maps for Portland Harbor that were recently released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The city is concerned the maps and the development restrictions that come with them would hinder redevelopment along the harbor. 

Littell said FEMA has agreed to take another look at the proposed flood insurance map and the city hopes they can resolve the conflict. She said as it stands, FEMA’s new map would hinder redevelopment at the pier.

“That would be considered substantial rehabilitation under FEMA,” Littell told the council.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net