PORTLAND – A well-known businessman got permission from the city Tuesday night to develop a large-scale boat repair yard on Portland’s western waterfront.
Phineas Sprague Jr. went before the Planning Board and received unanimous site plan approval for his company, New Yard LLC, to build Canal Landing.
Canal Landing, at 40 West Commercial St., would encompass about 22 acres on the Fore River. Sprague says he wants to be able to work on tugboats, barges and commercial craft.
Sprague said Canal Landing would be the city’s first major marine-use development since the Maine Yacht Center, a high-end marina near Tukey’s Bridge, opened in 2003.
Board members praised the project, calling the proposed marine use well suited to the city’s waterfront district.
“I’m very grateful to see this site being developed with a water-dependent use. It’s just what we need,” said Carol Morrissette, the board’s chairwoman.
Sprague, who is president of Portland Yacht Services, will continue to operate a marina and private function facility at 58 Fore St., but plans to move all of Portland Yacht Services’ boat repair operations to the new boat yard just west of the Casco Bay Bridge.
“It is time for us to move,” Sprague told the board, referring to his overcrowded facility on Fore Street.
The Fore Street property, which has hosted flower shows and other large public functions, remains for sale. Even if the property is sold — Sprague says the price is negotiable – he will retain ownership of the marina.
“I’d like to be hauling boats by September,” Sprague said after Tuesday’s vote.
Canal Landing would have an operations building and a tension-fabric building large enough to fit a boat inside for repairs.
It would have a boat ramp and equipment capable of lifting boats out of the water and onto land. Customers’ boats would arrive by the Fore River or be transported to the yard by trailer.
Though Sprague has the city’s permission to move forward, he still faces several regulatory hurdles. He said he needs permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Portland Harbor Commission.
Sprague has negotiated a long-term lease agreement with Unitil, the natural gas company, for about three acres of the project site. Unitil would be responsible for cleaning up the site, which is contaminated with coal tar. The DEP is overseeing that cleanup.
From the 1800s to 1965, the property was the site of a coal gas manufacturing plant. The cleanup could cost several million dollars.
Sprague has a purchase-and-sales agreement with Pan Am Railways for the remaining land that would make up Canal Landing.
Those agreements will take effect if Sprague receives permits from the state and federal agencies.
The Harbor Commission has been reviewing the proposal to make sure its proposed piers and boat traffic would not interfere with Portland Harbor’s tugboat operations.
During Tuesday’s public hearing, Canal Landing drew mostly positive reviews, though a couple of West End residents said they were concerned that two large commercial buildings would hinder water views and lower property values.
“It’s going to be an enormous white, glaring building with letters on top of it. I think it’s going to be an eyesore,” said Meghan Phillips of Brackett Street.
In diagrams filed with the city, Sprague depicts one of the buildings at Canal Landing with the letters PYS (Portland Yacht Services) on a white roof.
Joe Schmader, president of Gowen Marine at 400 Commercial St., said, “It’s greatly needed in Portland. A boat yard is going to change the atmosphere on the waterfront.”
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: