Portland has hired a longtime planner to be its first waterfront coordinator.
Bill Needelman, who has been a city planner for nearly 15 years, will begin his new role on Dec. 16. Although Portland has had managers to oversee waterfront operations, the new position is considered the first to be dedicated to advocating for development interests on the waterfront.
The city’s waterfront is poised to change dramatically, from the potential redevelopment of the 10-acre Portland Co. complex on the eastern waterfront to a new boatyard near the Casco Bay Bridge and a $100 million mixed-use development on Thompson’s Point.
“I think a large part of the future of Portland is development of the waterfront,” said City Manager Mark Rees. “We have a lot of different interests on the Portland waterfront – both public and private. We need to have somebody on board to make sure everybody’s moving in the right direction.”
As waterfront coordinator, Needelman will coordinate the city staff on seaport-related projects, work with developers and resolve conflicts that may arise. He also will look to increase revenues along the waterfront, through grants or other sources, recommend new policies and rules, and represent the waterfront before business and tourism groups.
Needelman, who has overseen waterfront land use in the city’s planning office, beat out roughly 80 other applicants for the job.
“He knows the Portland waterfront like the back of his hand and he knows all the players,” Rees said. “I was impressed by his enthusiasm and his excellent people skills. I think he will be a great ambassador for the city.”
Until 2008, the city had a director of ports and transportation, to manage the International Marine Terminal and parts of the Portland International Jetport operation. That position was eliminated during the recession and the department was dissolved. The International Marine Terminal is now run by the state.
The new waterfront coordinator will have a different role. Needelman will be more of an advocate and liaison for waterfront interests, including fishermen, restaurant owners, retailers, cargo carriers, tugboat operators and other property owners.
He will have offices at the Ocean Gateway terminal and at City Hall, and will report directly to Rees. His $66,700 annual salary will be funded through the city’s Waterfront Tax Increment Financing District, an account funded by increased property taxes from new waterfront developments.
Needelman, who was born and raised in Portland, joined the city in 1999 as a part-time planner. Two years later, he was promoted to the senior planner position, where he has concentrated on waterfront zoning and regulatory issues.
“Waterfront projects have always been the most interesting and the projects I gravitated to the most, so when this opportunity came up, I was eager to apply for it,” said Needelman, who is 49 and lives in East Deering with his wife and children.
In addition to handling waterfront projects, Needelman has staffed several long-term waterfront planning efforts, including the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan and the Waterfront Central Zone, which seeks to preserve the city’s working waterfront.
In his new role, he will work to implement those plans, with activity along the waterfront picking up.
Officials in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday they have reached a deal to resume ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The first trip of the vessel Nova Star, which will have 162 cabins and two restaurants, is expected to be made in May.
In March, the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip began offering direct container service between Portland and Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland and ports in northern Europe. It’s the first time Maine has had direct container service to Europe in 33 years.
Last week, Maine voters approved a $100 million transportation bond that includes funding for dredging, a new bus-rail transportation center at Thompson’s Point and a rail-line extension to the International Marine Terminal, where Eimskip wants to build a cold storage facility.
Also on the western waterfront, Phineas Sprague Jr. has permits to build a new boatyard near the Casco Bay Bridge.
Farther up the Fore River, a group of investors plans to build a $100 million mixed-used development on Thompson’s Point.
Earlier this year, Sprague sold his 10-acre Portland Co. complex on the eastern waterfront to CPB2, a Yarmouth-based development company led by Jim Brady and Casey Prentice. The developers have not announced any redevelopment plans, but the eastern waterfront has been the focus of an intense planning effort led by the city.
In addition to helping those developments clear regulatory hurdles, Rees said Needelman will promote Portland as a year-round destination for cruise ships.
In 2013, 59 cruise ships with a capacity of 74,250 passengers and more than 29,000 crew members called on Portland, primarily in August and September.
“I’m of the opinion we can do more with the cruise ship industry,” Rees said.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: