Portland property sale may pay for housing, fire station, more

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PORTLAND — Last summer, the city turned a parking lot into $3.3 million.

Now city councilors could turn much of the proceeds from sale of the lot at the corner of Thames and Hancock streets into new housing, a rebuilt fire station and a joint study on sustainability and environmental health.

“The City does not typically budget for significant amounts of property sale revenue, so this inflow of funding is above and beyond our (fiscal year 2018) budgeted revenues and will result in an increase in fund balance above our recommended level,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in a July 27 memo.

The land is now being developed as the future corporate home of WEX, which had been based in South Portland. The company provides payment processing services and technical support for businesses.

On Aug. 2, the City Council Finance Committee, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones, unanimously endorsed Jennings’ proposal to allocate $1 million each to the Housing Trust Fund and rebuilding the Allen Avenue fire station, as well as $110,000 to develop a climate action plan.

The allocation to the Housing Trust Fund would help fund three new affordable housing projects when the money is combined with available federal funding.

The other $1 million would cover most of the projected $1.3 million cost to repair and upgrade the fire station at 386 Allen Ave. in North Deering. The fire station has been closed since it was damaged by a kitchen fire in September 2017.

“Our Corporation Counsel staff is working with the insurance company to make a final determination of what is covered,” Jennings said. “Any excess insurance proceeds received will be deposited back into the fund balance.”

During the closure, the station’s ladder truck is being based at the Riverton fire station on Forest Avenue and the Medcu 4 unit is at the station on Ocean Avenue.

The city is preparing plans for the repairs, which former Chief David Jackson said could be a template for future repairs and upgrades to city fire stations.

Kathy Alves, director of Public Buildings/Waterfront, said expansion of the station could happen only if the city bought more land surrounding the building.

Mavodones said a report on city fire operations received last fall noted the stations are in the right areas, even if at least five of seven need repairs or replacement.

“We could debate if we should do less now and figure it out farther down the road, but people in that area are concerned about not having a firehouse,” he added.

Planning ahead

The $110,000 allotment will fund the city share of joining with South Portland to develop plans to mitigate effects of rising sea levels and climate change.

Compiling the plans was first discussed last winter; the funding would also pay for consulting and technical analysis to create the plans.

“The climate action plans will cover all sectors of the community – residential, commercial, and industrial – as well as municipal operations,” Jennings said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Money from the sale of land on Portland’s Eastern Waterfront could help reopen the Allen Avenue fire station, which closed after a kitchen fire in September 2017.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.