Portland wants to turn the aging Portland Ocean Terminal on the Maine State Pier into a public seafood market topped by marine-themed startups and event space.

A conceptual plan calls for development of a 6,000-square-foot market on a newly opened up ground floor to serve the 1.5 million ferry and cruise ship passengers that visit the eastern waterfront each year, as well as traditional tourists, island commuters and city residents.

The city wants at least half of the two dozen market vendors planned for the space to sell fish, informal seafood takeout or specialty seafoods that promote trawl-to-table connections and emerging local seafood products, according to the concept from the city’s economic development department.

Ready Seafood, a local lobster wholesaler that currently leases the southern end of the 88,000-square-foot ground floor, would remain, lending authenticity to the market, said Bill Needelman, the city’s waterfront coordinator. In addition to the seafood focus within the building, the city would also like to include a bakery, butcher shop, cheese monger, coffee shop and one local brewery tasting room – “all the fixings of a good meal at a reasonable price,” the plan says.

“We want to reinvent a building that’s had its fair share of controversy,” Needelman said. “We want to support what’s already there – Casco Bay Island Ferry, cruise ships, emergency vessel and tug boat berthing – but we want to find a way to pay to maintain that infrastructure while expanding upon our identity as a marine city, a port city, a food city. If we do that right, we can serve our working waterfront, our residents and the tourists who love to come here.”

The Maine State Pier is a city-owned deepwater marine facility built in 1922 and located at the busy Old Port intersection of Commercial and Franklin streets. Over the years, the city has considered several redevelopment plans for the facility, which has fallen into disrepair and is in need of infrastructure repairs, but the plans have gotten mired in parking and traffic issues, competing development interests and the financial effects of the recession.

But John Ready, co-owner of Ready Seafood, believes the time may be right for the city to do something with the largely unused building.

“If you look at Portland’s big picture right now, you’re seeing development, tourism, growth,” Ready said. “The time is right. It’s a favorable mix of working waterfront, with the development we need to pay for the infrastructure. It’s got to be together. We need them both. We need the waterfront jobs. We need that history, that character. But we need to adapt to the time and the climate, too. I think we can do both, if we keep the development focused on serving the waterfront.”

The city is considering dedicating some market stalls to international trade, celebrating the city’s food and export ties to Iceland, Norway, Ireland, Haiti, Russia and Japan.

SEEKING SUPPORT

The smaller upper floor would be split between business incubator and event space. On the business side, the city envisions 15 to 20 offices, each about 600 to 700 square feet, that would take up 18,000 square feet, with preference given to startups focusing on international trade or marine ventures. The remaining 9,000 square feet would host high-end meetings, conferences and special occasions, complete with a kitchen, roof-top deck and pavilion.

Like almost every other Maine State Pier redevelopment plan, this one calls for replacement of Portland’s Whaling Wall, a 950-foot-long mural painted by Robert Wyland in 1993 that dominates the southwestern wall of the Portland Ocean Terminal building. Needelman said the wall is in need of repainting – just one of many improvements needed for the aging building and pier – but would have to go to make room for the windows and entries needed for the public market.

The city will present the proposal, which is still very much in its infancy, to the City Council’s Economic Development Committee at a 5:30 p.m. workshop Tuesday. This is a follow-up to two informal workshop discussions in September and October where councilors challenged the economic development team to form a vision for rejuvenating the Maine State Pier, which has been largely vacant for years.

Needelman said the team wants to solicit policymaker input before it dives too deep into the research phase. If the committee supports the concepts presented, that team will begin researching how to implement them, and how to pay for them. There are no development costs in the plan, which is half text and half artist’s renderings of what could be, but the city would be looking for “a partner” in the project, the plan said.

Another example of a successful city-private partnership is the Portland International Jetport, where a private company runs the airport’s concessions, Needelman said.

City Councilor David Brenerman, who serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee, said it should be interesting to see what the staff has come up with.

“For the past two years, we’ve talked about what should be done with the pier, but we have been unable to come up with a plan,” Brenerman said.

Parking limitations, traffic movement through the congested pier area, and the competing needs of Casco Bay ferry lines have bogged things down, Brennerman said.

“It’s a valuable piece of property that has gone largely unused for years,” Brenerman observed.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH