PORTLAND — The $105 million, mixed-used project that’s planned at Thompson’s Point might not include a concert hall, as originally proposed. Depending on market demand, the concert hall might be replaced by an office building or a residential building, the developers said Tuesday.

The concert hall is one component in a 19-lot project that would be built in phases over several years. If completed as proposed, with 821,000 square feet of floor space, the Forefront at Thompson’s Point will be the biggest private project in the state since the Maine Mall was built in 1971.

The Portland Planning Board held its fifth and final workshop on the plan Tuesday, and agreed to hold a public hearing and vote the next time it meets to consider it.

Board members expressed support for the project and urged the developers to “push the boundaries” and design buildings that would create a dramatic gateway to the city.

“You have the opportunity to make a very good, very bold statement. You are going to be very visible,” said board Chair Carol Morrissette. “I don’t want to see a lot of flat buildings that belong in a suburban area. This is not suburban, where you are.”

In the second phase of the project, the developers should consider buildings taller than the current 65-foot limit in the area, she said.

The project would be built on a point that juts into the Fore River, adjacent to Interstate 295 and the Portland Transportation Center. Once a rail yard, the site is used today for storing tractor trailers and other warehousing and industrial uses.

The development’s location on the point would minimize its impact on nearby residents, although there is concern about noise from outdoor concerts and people parking on nearby residential streets, said City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who represents the Libbytown neighborhood, which includes Thompson’s Point.

If parking becomes a problem, residential tags could be required for parking on the adjacent dead-end streets, Suslovic said.

A key piece of the project would be an 80,000-square-foot event center, with about an acre of floor space for trade shows. The event center would serve as a 3,500- to 4,800-seat arena for the Maine Red Claws professional basketball team and other sporting events.

The developers initially proposed a concert hall that could seat 2,300 to 2,500 people and, combined with an outdoor amphitheater, could seat 4,800 people.

If a tenant is not found for the concert hall, the developers could change the plan and configure the event center and the amphitheater to seat 4,800 people, said Chris Thompson, one of the project’s managing partners.

“It could serve the same kind of function without building a concert hall at all,” Thompson said in an interview after the meeting.

The other managing partners are William Ryan Jr., an owner of the Red Claws, and the Red Claws’ general manager and president, Jon Jennings.

Raymond Foote, who owns properties nearby, said he doubts that the project will be ever built.

“I am as skeptical after seeing these plans as I was the first day it was proposed,” he told the Planning Board. “The economics of it are not there.”

The developers have an agreement with a national hotel franchise to operate a 125-room hotel, said Thompson. He declined to name the franchise or give details about how the project is being financed.

He said the developers will not building anything on speculation and will move ahead with construction only when they have signed agreements with tenants. He said the developers have been making payments on the property and will own it by this summer, when they plan to begin demolishing buildings on the site.

Site plan approval form the city is one condition of the land sale, he said.

While the Portland’s office vacancy rate has been high since the recession began, Thompson said the developers plan to build the kind of office buildings that are in demand but don’t exist in Portland – buildings with 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of space on a single floor.

The developers originally planned to begin construction by this spring, but getting an agreement with the state and Pan Am Railways for a rail crossing permit delayed the project by four months, he said.
The project would be divided into two phases.

The first would include the event center, a hotel, a 732-car parking garage, 718 spaces of surface parking, a 120,000-square-foot office building, a 60,000-square-foot office building, a 24,000-square-foot sports medicine facility, a 6,000-square-foot restaurant, a small boat launch and kayak access to the Fore River.

The second phase would include three or four additional office buildings and possibly another restaurant.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]

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