The city of Portland will host two public forums starting tonight to get input on current policies that relate to Portland’s central waterfront.

Stretching from the Maine State Pier to the International Marine Terminal, the central waterfront is home to 15 piers, dozens of marine and non-marine businesses, and is the center of the region’s fishing economy.

Current waterfront policies and zoning were developed to protect traditional marine business while allowing other compatible uses. Citing a need for increased revenues, 11 commercial property owners in the zone have applied to relax restrictions on development. The two forums will help inform the planning board as it evaluates current policy.

Tonight’s forum will explore the economic challenges and opportunities facing three components of the marine industries that current policies are designed to protect: the ground fishery, lobster fishery and marine tourism. Panelists include Deirdre Gilbert, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources; Burt Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange; Barbara Whitten, executive director of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitor Bureau; commercial lobsterman and Lucky Catch tours owner Tom Martin; and Don Perkins, president of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

Wednesday’s forum will outline potential changes to the waterfront, and seek public input on the future of the zone. Participants will be broken into small groups to discuss a number of questions including: Have current policies helped or hindered economic vitality for the area? How would significant non-marine development in the waterfront impact the city as a whole? What elements should be preserved and what elements can be improved in the zone?

Both forums will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium Rehearsal Hall (Myrtle Street entrance).

For more information, visit the city’s Web site.

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