PORTLAND – Among the India Street neighborhood’s greatest charms are its walkability, mix of independently owned shops and water views.
But its hotels, parking garages and Franklin Street wouldn’t be missed if they were to be eliminated.
Those are some of the opinions voiced at an open house seeking input about a long-term plan to shape what city officials call a neighborhood in transition.
The forum, held at the Maine Jewish Museum, is the first step in developing the plan. The event was organized by Sustain Southern Maine, a group that works with communities to strengthen local economies, environments and neighborhoods.
Funded by a $1.6 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, the group is working with nine communities across the state.
Forum participants rated various architectural styles and neighborhood amenities, listed their favorite and least-favorite things about the neighborhood and took a tour of its roughly 15 blocks bounded by Franklin, Congress, Mountfort and Fore streets.
City planning officials said Sustain Southern Maine’s work will be incorporated into a plan for the neighborhood, which has seen a flurry of redevelopment in recent years.
It was once a thriving Italian and Jewish neighborhood, but largely disappeared with the construction of Franklin Street in the 1960s. It is home to the Abyssinian Meeting House, one of the nation’s oldest black churches, and the historic Eastern Cemetery. It housed the city’s once-thriving food processing district.
It was clear at Saturday’s forum that the neighborhood around India Street, the oldest street in the city, has a major fan base.
Caralen MacKenzie-Hicks of Brunswick said she got to know the neighborhood when living on Peaks Island. It would be where she would head off the ferry to shop and visit friends.
“I felt drawn to come today,” MacKenzie-Hicks said.
Markos Miller, who walks through the neighborhood every day from his home on Munjoy Hill, said the area has interesting architecture and destinations, such as Micucci Grocery Co. on India Street. Miller is a former president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, from which the India Street Neighborhood Association spun off.
“The neighborhood is right between the city and the water. I also like its sense of opportunity,” said Miller, who moved to Portland from Seattle 15 years ago.
Melissa Knoll said she and her daughters, Sophie, 3, and Molly, 7 months, are frequent visitors.
“I like the eclectic mix of what goes on, the destination bakeries. We are at Micucci’s constantly,” Knoll said.
Arthur Fink, a Peaks Island resident, said he fell in love with the area after opening an office at a former synagogue on Newbury Street.
“This was the center of Portland. You can feel it experientially,” Fink said.
Marie Hamm, 65, a lifelong Portland resident who has lived on Smith Street behind the Maine Jewish Museum for 28 years, said the neighborhood has changed a lot.
She said there are fewer houses and the parks seem emptier. She said she would like to see some modern buildings and a recreation center like the one she remembers being there when she was growing up.
“We need something for the teens,” Hamm said.
Sustain Southern Maine will issue a draft plan for the neighborhood in December and a final report in February that will include a map with recommendations for residential, commercial and mixed-used zones and building heights.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: