April 30, 2013

Development on $105 million Portland project could begin in June

When finished, phase one of The Forefront will have a 4,500-seat event center, office buildings, a hotel, a sports medicine facility, a parking garage and a restaurant.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Development of the $105 million mixed-used project known as The Forefront at Thompson's Point could start in June, according to one of the partners in the firm that plans to make over the point of land that juts into the Fore River.

click image to enlarge

The Libbytown section of Portland, looking up Park Avenue toward the I-295 overpass.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Christopher Thompson told about 60 people Tuesday night that the project, which was approved in June by the city's Planning Board, could take as long as 24 months to complete.

When finished, phase one of The Forefront will have a 4,500-seat event center that will host outdoor concerts in the summer and serve as home to the Maine Red Claws basketball team in the winter.

The complex also will have two office buildings, a hotel, a sports medicine facility, a 700-space parking garage and a restaurant, Thompson said.

"We have made tremendous progress," said Thompson, who told the audience that The Forefront will lead to several street and sidewalk improvements in the surrounding Libbytown neighborhood.

As part of the project, the city and the Maine Department of Transportation, along with the developer, were given a $3 million grant to design and construct traffic improvements in Libbytown.

The city is also considering several options -- such as speed tables, traffic circles and center islands -- to slow traffic on 11 side streets.

Most of the people who attended Tuesday's presentation at the Italian Heritage Center live on the streets, between Brighton Avenue and Congress Street.

"There is an awful lot going on in Libbytown, but I like to think that Libbytown is where it's at," said Edward Suslovic, the district's city councilor.

Suslovic said Tuesday's meeting was held to update Libbytown residents on all of the changes that are planned in their neighborhood, which is generally considered the streets off Park Avenue and Congress Street between Sewall Street and Gilman Street.

Traffic engineers said Thompson's Point Road will be rebuilt and widened from two to three lanes.

The road, which will connect The Forefront at Thompson's Point to the Fore River Parkway and Congress Street, will have an 8-foot-wide walking path.

Sewall Street will be improved to accommodate pedestrians.

New sidewalks and curbing will be installed, along with street lights.

Traffic engineers are also considering converting a section of Park Avenue and Congress Street -- between Denny's restaurant and St. John Street -- from one-way to two-way traffic.

Engineers said they are looking at redesigning and possibly removing some of the ramps that connect Libbytown to Interstate 295.

Suslovic said, "Some of these ramps are redundant (two ramps on Congress Street provide access to the northbound lanes).

"A lot of valuable land is being tied up. We have an opportunity to make these areas safer and to knit back the fabric of the neighborhood that used to exist here."

In the early 1970s, about 100 houses and apartment units were torn down to make way for the highway and interchange -- a project that historians say "cut Libbytown to shreds."

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

dhoey@pressherald.com

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