August 17, 2013

Residences proposed for Thompson's Point

Additional approvals from Portland are required to add housing units to the $100 million mixed-use project.

PORTLAND – The latest version of a $100 million mixed-use project on Thompson's Point will require changes to an agreement that would have returned as much as $32 million in property taxes to the developer, according to the city's economic development director.

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In this 2011 file photo, Thompson's Point in Portland. The latest version of a $100 million mixed-use project on Thompson's Point will require changes to an agreement that would have returned as much as $32 million in property taxes to the developer, according to the city's economic development director.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

On Thursday, a college-level circus conservatory announced it would take up residence in an existing building on the 28-acre former industrial site. Now, developers say they plan to add residences to the development -- which will require additional approvals from the city.

Developer Chris Thompson of Forefront Partners I said he is looking to build a mix of residential units on the point, including student housing, live-work spaces and market-rate units. He also plans to renovate two brick buildings that were originally going to be demolished.

One building is a 33,000-square-foot facility that is expected to become the home of the Circus Conservatory of America, which intends to offer bachelors of fine arts degrees in circus arts. The other is a 24,000-square-foot building that could become a "creative cluster" of uses, Thompson said.

The changes are possible now that Suburban Propane is expected to move off the point, freeing 2.5 acres for an event center and parking garage near the railroad tracks.

"We're redrawing the plan to make the most of that site and put the event center and the garage where they're meant to be," Thompson said. "That opens up some opportunities to make this more of a creative, dynamic neighborhood, and we're pretty excited about that."

The amendments to the tax break -- or tax-increment financing -- agreement will likely be taken up by the City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee when revised plans are submitted to the city's Planning Department, Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said Thursday.

"Some refinement discussions need to occur," he said.

Thompson expects to file a master plan reflecting the changes within a month or so. He is also seeking to change the terms of a TIF agreement with the city to include the 2.5 acre parcel and renovation of the brick building.

The Forefront at Thompson's Point has evolved several times since it was first introduced with great fanfare in 2011.

When developers were seeking the tax break from the council in 2011, they showed plans for a 48,000-square-foot convention center that would also serve as a 3,500-seat arena for the Maine Red Claws. It would have been attached to a hotel on one side, and on the other to a music hall that would seat between 1,000 and 2,000 people.

In all, 558,000 square feet of office space, a hotel, a restaurant and event space were envisioned originally, but residential uses were not discussed at the time.

Now two residential buildings are being proposed on the tip of the point along the Fore River, and in June city planners approved a 113,000-square-foot reduction in the development plan.

Councilors contacted Friday were hesitant to judge the project's evolution before new plans had been submitted to the city.

"In general, we need to anticipate changes, welcome and unwelcome, when involving ourselves in economic development agreements," said City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who sits on the Housing and Community Development Committee.

Donoghue said in an email he was initially concerned about the tax break because of the amount of office space in the original plan. He believes the decision to reduce the office space and move the event center next to the Portland Transportation Center and train tracks, where Amtrak and bus passengers could easily enter the facility, are welcome changes.

City Councilor John Anton said he was intrigued by the introduction of residential uses on the site.

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