Talks could lead to garage, transit hub at Thompson's Point in Portland

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PORTLAND — Negotiations are taking place that could dramatically change the development proposed at Thompson’s Point.

Stakeholders are hoping to move Suburban Propane from Thompson’s Point, which could pave the way for a new rail-side transportation center as part of the proposed Forefront at Thompson’s Point.

The deal could involve the use of city-owned land on Riverside Street.

An investment group is in the process of securing approvals to build the mixed-use, entertainment and convention center at Thompson’s Point, which would be the new home of the Maine Red Claws.

One of the key attractions of the proposed Forefront development is its proximity to Interstate 295, the Portland Jetport and the Portland Transportation Center, which is the local base for Concord Coach Lines and the Amtrak Downeaster.

The developers currently have all of Thompson’s Point under contract to buy, except the nearly 3-acre Suburban Propane property.

At a recent Planning Board workshop, the development team said it is trying to work out a plan to move the propane company, so a parking garage could be built along the railroad tracks.

The move could create the possibility of a new bus and train station.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is studying options for a new train station in preparation for the Downeaster’s northbound extension to Brunswick.

NNPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn said if the land becomes available, it could be a great opportunity for a new transportation station, with parking close to the tracks.

“Obviously that would change the whole dynamics down there and it would be great,” she said.

Quinn said the authority’s study will focus on several other long-term goals for expanding its service to Brunswick. One of her primary concerns is getting trains easily in and out of the station.

Harry Blunt, of Concord Coach Lines, said he has attended several meetings about the Suburban Propane move. He said the meetings have included city officials, the Thompson’s Point developers and the Maine Department of Transportation.

Blunt said the project would require a lot of money, though it’s too early to say exactly how much. There may be federal highway funds available, he said, adding he is “cautiously optimistic” that a deal could be reached.

“Everyone’s singing from the same songbook that this makes a lot of sense,” Blunt said. “Many times with this type of project, it’s hard to get to that point.”

According to the city records, the property purchased by Suburban Propane in 1996 is assessed at more than $1.1 million.

Bill Ryan Jr., of the Thompson’s Point Development team, confirmed the group is in conversations to possibly acquire the Suburban Propane lot. But he would not comment on what that would mean for the development.

“Right now, we’re concentrating on the land we have under contract,” Ryan said.

A representative from Suburban Propane could not be reached by email or telephone.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city continues to look for “appropriate uses for the land in the Thompson’s Point area.” She said the City Council’s Transportation Committee could see a presentation as soon as next week.

Although Clegg would not disclose any details, City Councilor Edward Suslovic said the city is contemplating selling a piece of land on Riverside Street to Suburban. That land was previously eyed for a new public works facility, but that proposal is not going forward, he said.

Suslovic said making the financials work would be key to making the move happen. He said he would be open to giving Suburban Propane a tax break to move to Riverside, since it would make the Thompson’s Point development a safer and better project.

“I’m certainly strongly advocating for it,” he said. “I think it would be a huge, huge loss if we couldn’t get everyone in the same room and make it happen.” 

Suslovic said if the bus-and-train station is put within the Thompson’s Point development, it would open up the land that now houses the Portland Transportation Center for redevelopment.

The station currently sits on nearly a half acre of land, surrounded by parking lots, according the city assessor’s database.

Suslovic said the idea generated enthusiasm from Libbytown residents at a recent community meeting.

“I’m not hearing anyone say we shouldn’t do it,” he said. “I think it’s in everyone’s best interest.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings