Thompson's Point development in Portland will force widening of nearby road, ramps

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PORTLAND — A highly anticipated $105 million waterfront development on the Thompson’s Point peninsula will trigger a series of off-site road widenings to help the area absorb the traffic generated by the ambitious project’s new sports arena, concert site, circus college and other attractions.

The extra roadwork was detailed Tuesday night during a meeting of the Portland Planning Board, where approval of the developers’ application for master development plan status was tabled.

Randy Dutton, of the engineering firm Gorrill-Palmer, represented development group Forefront Partners during the meeting, and told the city planners he projects an average of 734 vehicles coming or going from the 32-acre property during the morning peak hour, with that number rising to 1,091 trips during the evening peak hour.

That boost will force the developers to widen Thompson’s Point Road, which leads onto the peninsula, to three lanes, Dutton said. Additionally, the offramps at Exits 5A and 5B will similarly be widened to three lanes, with traffic approach sensors installed to ensure traffic lights change regularly enough to prevent vehicle backups on Interstate 295.

Dutton also fielded questions from the public and board members about parking at the site. The development includes 1,290 parking spaces, but is projected to generate demand for 1,371 spaces during particularly high-traffic events, such as sold-out concerts, he said.

But Dutton said the developers have secured an agreement to use excess parking spaces at Mercy Hospital – and provide a shuttle bus service – during major events. He also said that the developers are still early enough in the process that they can add parking to the project in later stages of the buildout.

“It’s not going to be constructed all at once,” Dutton said. “It’s going to be incrementally implemented, so it can be evaluated for traffic generation and parking at any stage.”

Developers behind The Forefront at Thompson’s Point – which will build out the Fore River peninsula with office buildings, restaurants, a hotel, a sports arena, an outdoor concert site, parking garages, condominiums and a sports medicine lab, among other facilities – began pursuit of the city’s “master development plan” status during a Planning Board workshop last month.

An earlier rendition of the ambitious project won city approval in 2012, with updates getting the OK in June of last year. But in October, the city flipped to the developers another three acres it acquired from Suburban Propane, pushing the total size of the project to more than 32 acres and giving builders new flexibility to rearrange the campus layout.

As a result, however, the previously approved plans became out-of-date, and the development group was forced to return to the Planning Board to seek the green light for the layout adjustments.

“Many of the key elements have remained the same,” Dutton told board members Tuesday. “They may have changed slightly, but they’ve mostly remained the same.”

Needing to return to the planners anyway, Forefront Partners opted to also pursue the city’s master development plan designation, an option which wasn’t available during the project’s initial application in 2011. The status would further cement the city’s approval of the long-term vision for the area and give the developers a flexible timeline under which to phase in the plan.

The developers will still need to separately seek subdivision approval and several individual site plan approvals in addition to the overarching master development plan status.

Thompson has said components of the initial development plan that haven’t been changed, and thus still have their original city approvals, have been – or will soon be – started. Among them are road improvements, waterfront cleanup and the renovation of a 34,000-square-foot brick building on the property.

As a result of the extra acreage acquired through the Suburban Propane deal, Thompson said the parking garage and event center are now envisioned to be closer to the railroad lines across the northeastern edge of the property.

Like the four-tower Midtown project in Bayside, the high-profile Thompson’s Point project is seen as a major change for one of the city’s most recognizable properties, a 30-plus-acre Fore River peninsula that serves as Portland’s welcome mat to highway drivers from the south.

In August 2013, the startup Circus Conservatory of America, billed as the nation’s first college of the circus arts, was named an anchor tenant for the project alongside the Red Claws, a Development League affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

Forefront Partners’ Chris Thompson, who said he has no historical family tie to the property despite having the same name as the point, said he hopes construction of the circus school, a hotel and restaurant can begin as early as this summer or fall.

According to a report by economist Chuck Lawton of the research group Planning Decisions, the project when completed will generate $31.3 million in new annual sales for Maine businesses, 455 permanent jobs and $11 million in yearly wages.

During construction, the development will additionally support 1,230 jobs and $49 million in wages.

Sidebar Elements

Developers seeking to build a mixed-use, $100-million-plus project on Portland’s Thompson’s Point peninsula recently distributed updated renderings to city planning staff.