Portland developer Ron Gan has a plan: create a new development of homes and work spaces with a new brewery and restaurant in an industrial area near the edge of town. He has plans and artist’s renderings and has shared them with city officials and the media.
There’s only one problem.
The proposed development would go on three acres of city-owned land on Riverside Street that is not for sale and that some city officials indicate little interest in selling.
And Gan is only offering the city $1 for all three acres.
“I think it’s a moonshot, but it’s always worth taking a moonshot,” said Mayor Ethan Strimling, who often talks about having a high bar for selling city land. “I certainly appreciate his initiative. It’s a remote possibility we’d go down this path, but you never close (the) door.”
The land in question is the former Dole Brook Driving Range, across from the city-owned Riverside Golf Course. The golf practice range has not been used in the last eight to 10 years, although city officials hope to one day resurrect it, according to Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director.
Nestled between Riverside Street and the Maine Turnpike, the 4.5-acre area seems largely abandoned, with a few faded golf hole pins and flags. It is still used by a few golfers, who bring their own balls and collect them again after hitting them.
Gan, however, does not believe that’s the highest and best use for the land, which is located in an industrial area.
“Here’s some land that’s doing nothing,” Gan said, looking out over the property. “It doesn’t produce taxes or jobs. This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.”
Instead of unused land, Gan envisions a new brewery and restaurant, as well as four buildings that would have workspaces on the first floor and living areas on the second floor. The first-floor work spaces would have 12-foot-high ceilings and 10-foot-tall overhead doors.
There would be public plazas, a botanical garden and opportunities to build walking and hiking trails, said Gan, who would also like to keep beehives on the property.
Gan also envisions incorporating the old telephone poles that once supported protective netting around the driving range. He would like to use those poles and lines to cultivate hops for beer brewing.
Gan’s goal would be to draw food innovators and entrepreneurs, who are currently relying on community kitchens and other co-working spaces.
“This is for entrepreneurs. It’s not for starving artists. It’s too expensive,” he said, even though it’s too early in the process to work up pricing estimates.
The 66-year-old Gan said he was a real estate developer for 25 years in Chicago before coming to Portland, where he has developed a row of townhouses on Federal Street.
Gan circulated his unsolicited proposal, which includes concept plans, renderings done and an animated walk-through of the site by Bild Architecture and Aceto Landscape Architects, by dropping it on the desks of city officials and councilors on April 7.
The project, dubbed “Riverside Innovation,” has a long road ahead, even if it gains traction.
First, the city would survey all of its departments to get feedback about whether the parcel should be marketed for sale, or whether it should remain in city use. That process could take a few weeks, Grondin said.
One key department has already made its opinion known. “The Parks, Recreation & Facilities Department has no interest in selling this parcel of land,” department director Sally Deluca said in an email.
Further complicating the proposal is the fact that the land is currently part of the city’s Land Bank, making it even more difficult to sell.
The first step would be a recommendation from the Land Bank Commission, which was scheduled to discuss the proposal at its meeting last Thursday before postponing the discussion on the advice of a city attorney.
Commission Chairman Tom Jewell declined to comment on Gan’s proposal, saying only that the panel “would hear him out.”
If the commission approves the sale, it would then go to the City Council’s Economic Development Committee, which would review the plan and put out a request for other development proposals. Then the committee would forward a recommendation to the full council, which would have final say.
City Councilor David Brenerman, who chairs the development committee and represents the district that includes the land, said Gan’s proposal was “intriguing.” But he cautioned that the sale of any land would need to go through the normal process.
“If it were available, there may be developers who wanted to do something else for more than a dollar,” Brenerman said.
Gan said he is confident his proposal would stand up to any competing plans in an open process, but he also expressed a desire to move quickly on the project.
“If they take too long, we’re going to miss the window of opportunity.”
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: