PORTLAND — City councilors considering a tax break for developers of a proposed $100 million complex at Thompson’s Point are starting to think about how they might spend the city’s share of new property tax money the project would generate.

The council was briefed Monday on the proposed break of $31 million over 30 years for The Forefront at Thompson’s Point, a development that will include a basketball arena/convention center, concert hall, hotel, two office buildings and 700-car garage on a site that has changed little in the past century but is considered a prime gateway into Portland.

The council will be asked next week to name the Thompson’s Point peninsula a tax increment financing district. The designation allows the developers to have some of their property taxes returned to them – 54 percent of nearly $58 million in projected property tax payments over the next three decades.

The city takes a smaller share of taxes – $26.4 million over 30 years – in return for the development and revenue it might not otherwise get.

City officials also note that The Forefront will provide an estimated 1,230 jobs during construction next year and into 2013 and about 455 permanent jobs once the development is operating.

The Thompson’s Point district would be a transit-oriented TIF because of its location next to I-295, the Portland Transportation Center bus and rail station and near the Portland International Jetport.

The council’s Community Development Committee voted last week to recommend setting aside 3 percent of the city’s share of the tax revenue to support as-yet-unspecified transit projects.

But Monday, Councilor David Marshall said he will seek to increase that figure.

“It’s going to be a lot more than 3 percent – probably in the 30 to 50 percent range,” he said.

Marshall said that amount will be needed to support a bus route to and from the airport to Thompson’s Point and the transportation center, then into downtown Portland and the Maine State Pier.

That route, he said, would tie all of the city’s major forms of transportation together – planes, trains, buses and ferries.

Other than Marshall signaling that he’s looking to direct more money toward transportation, little new came out at the council’s workshop on the project.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones asked about a cap on the dollar amount that developers could get from the TIF, but the developers said that would take away any incentive to upgrade the project.

If a tenant wants a more energy-efficient building, for instance, the developers could offset the higher cost with an increase in its TIF share because the development would be worth more.

Before the workshop on the Thompson’s Point TIF, the council was briefed on a costly sewer upgrade that will also be on next week’s agenda.

Eighteen years ago, the city agreed to fix 33 of the 39 combined sewer overflow points in Portland by 2008, but only nine have been repaired. The overflows are relief valves of sorts for occasions when heavy rain flows into storm sewers, many of which are still combined with sanitary sewers.

During storms, runoff from heavy rain could overtax sewer lines, causing them to back up, so the system has relief points that open to ease the pressure, allowing untreated sewage to flow into streams, rivers, Portland Harbor and Back Cove.

The city has been working to install separate storm and sewer lines, but continuing along that path means a bill of more than $500 million, Michael Bobinsky, Portland’s director of public services, told the council.

Instead, the city now wants to install storage conduits underground which will hold more water during storms, ideally until the city’s wastewater treatment plant can catch up.

The biggest sticking point is timing. Bobinsky is recommending the council install the conduits, along with some other measures to deal with downpours, at a cost of $170 million over 25 years.

Friends of Casco Bay and the Conservation Law Foundation are pushing for a 15-year project.

Bobinsky said both approaches will triple sewer rates, from slightly more than $400 a year now to more than $1,200, but it will take longer for rates to hit that point under the 25-year plan.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]