PORTLAND — The developer of a former college dormitory and hotel on Congress Street expects to begin demolishing part of the building this week.

Bayside Maine won Planning Board approvals Tuesday night to renovate the main building at 645 Congress St. and turn it into apartments and retail space. Three additions at the back of the building, reaching toward Deering Street, will be demolished and that land will become parking and green space.

Eventually the developer plans to build on the back lot, but said depends on financing, which is unlikely until the economy and the lending market recover.

“We do want to build back there as soon as possible,” said Greg Shinberg, a partner in Bayside Maine.

The Planning Board granted site plan and subdivision approval for the project 4-0, with three members absent. 

While some work has already begun on the site, Shinberg said he and his partner, state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, are waiting for final approval before demolishing the wings, which are not structurally sound and were added to the main building when it functioned as a hotel in the1960s.

Now that the project has approval, demolition will begin as soon as a permit is issued. Shinberg said he hopes that will happen by the end of this week. 

Renovation of the main building will include a new facade that will be a mix of metal and stucco, and new windows.  The developer will put in a new brick sidewalk, too.

Bayside Maine ran into some opposition earlier in the planning process from some Deering Street property owners and the Historic Preservation Board.  The plan originally called for more surface parking at Deering Street end of the 1.7-acre property, but the developer amended that plan when the board expressed concern about surface parking too close to Deering Street, which is classified as historic.

Other concerns, including how the 75 parking spaces on the property will be assigned, were worked out by the Planning Board Tuesday night. 

Once renovated, 645 Congress St. will have 55 efficiency and one-bedroom apartments. Five of those units are affordable under city standards. About 12,000 square feet of retail space is planned for the ground floor. 

Shinberg and Alfond bought the former Portland Hall in October 2008 for $2.2 million from the University of Southern Maine. The university closed the dorm in in 2007. The building had originally been a hotel and later subsidized housing until USM bought it in 1988.

Shinberg said Bayside Maine is aiming to have renovations completed by mid-fall.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

PORTLAND — The wings extending behind the former Portland Hall on Congress Street have hosted some interesting uses in recent weeks.

The two-story buildings, with parking underneath, are scheduled for demolition this month as the new owner of the building prepares to turn the main structure on Congress Street into apartments and much of the back of the lot into parking.

Last week, graffiti artists honed their craft on the flat, concrete walls of the covered parking area while upstairs, members of the Portland Police Department SWAT team trained. 

Portland resident Mike Francis organized the graffiti outing, after finding out that property owner Greg Shinberg planned to demolish the structure. Francis said he got in touch with Shinberg and asked him if he minded if some graffiti artists came down and painted.

“I basically said, if you’re tearing the buildings down anyway I know some people that can do some cool work on your walls,” Francis said. “People that aren’t interested in tagging, but are interested in doing some pieces.”

Shinberg liked the idea, and so about 15 artists visited the property last week, spending hours and even days on large graffiti works. Students from SALT Institute for Documentary Studies took photographs for a street art documentary.

Meanwhile, police officers trained in the former University of Southern Maine dorm rooms on the upper floors of the buildings.

Shinberg has proposed turning Portland Hall into apartments, with retail space on the ground floor. The project was to go before the Planning Board Tuesday evening for approval.

While the wings probably won’t come down for a week or two, the graffiti project is finished. Francis said a couple of kids who were not part of the organized group tagged the property over the weekend.

He said it was unfortunate, and highlighted the fine line between graffiti and vandalism.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]




phallgraffiti 001.jpgOne of the walls of the former University of Southern Maine Portland Hall on Congress Street, where the owner allowed a group of graffiti artists to practice their craft. (Bucklin photo)

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