January 27

Franklin Street redesign to free up valuable city land

The effort to undo the 1960s project could also enlarge Lincoln Park and reunite parts of Portland.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

An effort to redesign Franklin Street into a more pedestrian-friendly road could free up acres of city land at a time when Portland is in the midst of a development boom.

Today's poll: Franklin Arterial

Should Franklin Arterial be redesigned to make it more pedestrian-friendly and to free up acres of city land?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

The Parish Hall of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is visible along the right side of Franklin Street looking toward Back Cove in 1963, above, and today. The street is to be redesigned to make it more pedestrian-friendly, and a meeting this week will gather residents’ input.

click image to enlarge

1963 photo: Portland Evening Express file; 2014 photo: John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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One real estate agent with experience marketing properties in Bayside speculated that the value of that land, located within the city-owned right of way, could top $1 million an acre on the private market.

“It wouldn’t take long for a retail developer to come in and scoop it up,” said Frank O’Connor, a broker at NAI The Dunham Group who has brokered several real estate deals in West Bayside.

The City Council would decide what to do with the land in the right of way.

The exact amount of new real estate won’t be known until after an advisory group presents a final recommendation.

Franklin Street is a two-way, four-lane artery that runs between Interstate 295 and Commercial Street. The grassy median runs from Middle Street to Marginal Way. A redesign would free up acres of valuable real estate in East Bayside and downtown Portland.

The India Street neighborhood could be reconnected to the downtown by restoring the street grid. More than 100 market-rate residences are under construction in that neighborhood.

Another 24-unit market-rate condo project at Newbury and Franklin streets, which has received Planning Board approvals, has been put on hold until the Franklin Street redesign and a neighborhood planning study are completed. That property is owned by S. Donald Sussman, the majority owner of the Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

In addition to new development opportunities, the redesign could also lead to the expansion of Lincoln Park. The 2.5-acre park is only three-quarters of its previous size.

The 19-member public advisory group made up of neighborhood residents, city officials and business representatives plans to have a recommendation ready by this summer, according to Carol Morris, the spokeswoman for the project.

Residents may offer input at a public meeting being held Wednesday at the Portland Public Library. And the city has launched a Web page – franklinstreet.mindmixer.com – to collect feedback.

The Franklin Street arterial was built as part of the urban renewal movement in the 1960s. Entire neighborhoods, mostly of immigrant families, were destroyed and the India Street neighborhood was severed from the downtown to create a major thoroughfare to move traffic into and out of the city.

Other arterials, such as those along Spring, High and State streets, also were created at the time.

The road projects were recommended by consultant Victor Gruen, who is considered the father of suburban shopping malls.

Gruen originally called for Spring Street to be connected to Franklin Street, but area merchants killed the project, according to Jeremiah Bartlett, the city’s transportation systems engineer.

Gruen also called for an underground tunnel that would carry Franklin Street underneath Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue. That’s why the road has such a wide median, Bartlett said.

The effort to undo the arterial dates back to 2006, when the city’s Peninsula Traffic Study recommended widening Franklin Street to eight lanes. That proposal drew the opposition of the Bayside Neighborhood Association and the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, according to Markos Miller, a former MHNO president who has been deeply involved with the Franklin Street redesign.

“The (traffic study) proposal failed to address many of the shortcomings of the corridor – no pedestrian facilities, few crossings, no bike access and acres of inaccessible or underutilized public space,” Miller said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Franklin Arterial

Should Franklin Arterial be redesigned to make it more pedestrian-friendly and to free up acres of city land?

Yes

No

View Results