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PORTLAND — An election in Bar Harbor has resulted in a temporary hold on redeveloping the Portland Ocean Terminal.
City Manager Jon Jennings on June 19 asked members of the City Council Economic Development Committee for a three- to six-month delay on issuing a request for qualifications on mixed-use redevelopment envisioned to add retail uses to the first story of the terminal building.
His request came after Bar Harbor voters on June 12 approved the $3.5 million purchase of the local ferry terminal property from the state Department of Transportation by a 1,380 to 213 vote.
A business plan created by Bemello Ajamil & Partners on potential uses for the Bar Harbor terminal, idle since 2010, includes the return of the high-speed CAT ferry servicing Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The ferry serves Portland and Yarmouth from the Ocean Gateway Terminal in Portland.
Operated by Bay Ferries Ltd. of Nova Scotia, the ferry service is in the last year of its basic lease with Portland, and berths at the Ocean Gateway Terminal. Its departure could open up land between the terminals now needed to process vehicles.
“If the queuing lanes become available, it is a much bigger decision for us,” Jennings said.
The Economic Development Committee, led by Councilor Justin Costa, last reviewed the redevelopment options in March with a presentation that focused on how to reuse space in the northern end of the terminal, closest to Commercial Street.
The southern end of the building, closest to the Maine State Pier, is leased to Ready Seafood and a portion of the building is also used to process passengers arriving on cruise ships.
The building redevelopment could also be accompanied by a redesign of the pickup and drop-off area for the Casco Bay Lines Terminal, which sits across from the Portland Ocean Terminal building.
“The bigger picture is really the determination of what our waterfront can and should be,” Jennings said.
Redeveloping the Portland Ocean Terminal and adjacent Maine State Pier has proved vexing for more than a decade, with competing proposals and lease agreements that have not come to fruition.
Most recently, former Mayor Michael Brennan looked to use the terminal’s second floor for the “New England Cluster House,” intended to be a space to lure entrepreneurs interested in boosting maritime-related industries in the region and with Iceland.
Jennings said he still envisions the 30,000 square feet on the second floor of the terminal will become an “incubator and innovation center” for small business development.
Ferry service returned to Portland in 2014, first with the Nova Star, and then in 2016 with the CAT, which offers a speedier trip to Nova Scotia aboard a catamaran-style ferry. The service has drawn about 50,000 passengers annually.
The service has been subsidized by the provincial government in Nova Scotia in a 10-year deal ending in 2025, according to the Bemello Ajamil & Partners Bar Harbor business plan.
The subsidies including paying for security upgrades in Portland this year after they were required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Jennings said the upgrades cost $7 million, an expense the city was not going to pay.
While agreeing it was sound to hold off on issuing the RFQ to gauge interest in redevelopment, the committee was also not keen on waiting too long.
“If in six months, we don’t have some strong indication … that something is different is going to happen in Bar Harbor that would affect Portland, I would not want us to be basically sitting with a building that lies fallow all the time,” Councilor Nick Mavodones said.
The Norwegian Gem visits Portland June 21, berthed at the Portland Ocean Terminal. Terminal redevelopment plans affecting its northern end are on a temporary hold.
The expanse of land used for queuing vehicles boarding the CAT ferry, seen June 22, is envisioned for redevelopment should the ferry leave for Bar Harbor.