PORTLAND – A co-owner of the Shipyard Brewing Co. wants to bring a convention center to Portland.
In the past few weeks, Fred Forsley has floated a plan to develop a convention center, a 200- to 300-room hotel and a four-year culinary school on Portland’s peninsula. The total floor space of the development would be 300,000 to 600,000 square feet.
Forsley is proposing the development on the 96,000 square feet of land that Shipyard owns on Newbury Street. He said it would be six stories tall, the legal height limit in that area.
The development would be built “over or around” Shipyard’s headquarters at 86 Newbury St., leaving the brewery fully functional.
“My goal is to keep the brewery here forever. The brewery would be an added attraction” for the convention center, he said.
Forsley, who resigned March 15 from the Cumberland County Civic Center’s board of trustees to avoid conflicts of interest, is seeking investors and developers. Because there have been no feasibility studies or commitments from developers, he declined to speculate on the project’s cost.
Forsley said Portland has long needed a convention center that’s capable of hosting corporate and trade association meetings. He said the city, with its waterfront, restaurants, ample parking and expanding airport, is attractive to businesspeople from across the country.
He also said the city, which has world-class restaurants, needs a culinary school.
Forsley said he has discussed the project with Pat Finnigan, Portland’s acting city manager; Barbara Whitten, president and CEO of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Greg Mitchell, Portland’s economic development director.
Godfrey Wood, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber, said the group’s members strongly support a convention center in the city. He said Portland has many attractions but lacks facilities that can accommodate large groups.
Whitten said a convention center could draw groups from across the country, boosting local businesses, particularly restaurants and hotels.
“If you build it right and market it properly, they will come,” she said. “We would be in the game for New England and regional conferences, if not national conferences.”
Portland’s largest facilities today are the civic center, which is designed for entertainment and sporting events, and the Holiday Inn by the Bay. Neither one is designed to accommodate large conventions, Whitten said.
The biggest obstacle to Forsley’s project could be financing.
Wood said convention centers often don’t generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining; they are frequently supported by sales taxes paid by patrons of local hotels and restaurants.
Wood said such taxes were considered about five years ago, the last time a convention center was considered. That project, proposed by developer Joe Boulos, fell through in part because Republican lawmakers would not support new taxes, Wood said.
Whitten said talk of a convention center has gone on for years, but “no one privately has stepped forward to fund it, and publicly there hasn’t been the drive to raise restaurant and lodging (taxes).”
During that time, she said, facilities have been built in other New England cities, including Boston and Worcester, Mass., Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn.
Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]