This story was corrected at 2:03 p.m. April 21, 2011: Leslie Oster is general manager of Aurora Provisions. Marika Kuzma Green is the owner.

PORTLAND — Ocean Gateway was designed to be a fairly utilitarian cruise ship terminal, but it has evolved into a destination for business groups, convention organizers and couples who want a place to get married.

The modern, angular building with two walls of soaring windows is getting booked up despite its $2,250-a-day price — $1,750 for nonprofit groups — in part because it’s actually on the water in Portland Harbor, atop a pier that leads to the deep-water berth that the city will open this summer.

“It’s one of the only places on the water that has that view,” said Leslie Oster, general manager of Aurora Provisions, a gourmet market and catering firm in Portland. “At night, it’s magical in there.”

Ocean Gateway, which opened in 2008, was meant to be a waiting area and customs screening site for passengers getting on or off The Cat, the high-speed ferry between Portland and Nova Scotia. The ferry line used Ocean Gateway for two years before canceling its service after the 2009 season, when Nova Scotia dropped its subsidy for the run.

That cost Portland $150,000 a year in revenue. Now the building’s second life as a venue is allowing the city to recoup some of that lost income.

Rental fees brought in $72,600 last year. The city has budgeted for $70,000 this year and it will exceed that amount, said Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city. For next year, officials are raising expected revenue from rental fees to $90,000.

“It’s a marquee location,” said Clegg. There have been five weddings there this year, she said, and another seven are booked between now and June.

Barbara Whitten, president and CEO of the Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Ocean Gateway’s primary attraction is its views of Casco Bay and Portland’s waterfront, from a site set out from the shore.

Whitten’s organization holds its annual Harvest on the Harbor event at Ocean Gateway in the fall. The event drew 5,000 people last year, 40 percent of them from out of state.

“They just love being on the water,” Whitten said.

Ocean Gateway, at the east end of Commercial Street, is still primarily a ship terminal and won’t be rented when cruise ships tie up at the deep-water berth, which is expected to be completed in mid-July, Clegg said.

The city gets $9 per passenger for ships carrying more than 1,000 passengers. Use of the Ocean Gateway building is included in that cost. And federal security rules require the public to be kept back from the ships, Clegg noted.

But before July, in between ship visits and for most of the fall, winter and spring, Ocean Gateway is a prime site for events.

It does have a drawback, though — there’s no kitchen.

Oster and others who use the building said cooks must bring in portable stove tops and ovens, and coolers for food. They also have to make repeated trips to the sink in the bathroom to get water.

Clegg said cooking facilities were never in the Ocean Gateway plans because most people thought the terminal would be used most of the time by the ferry service and cruise ships.

There has been talk about adding a small kitchen, Clegg said, but no decision has been made. “We do see that as an amenity that would be worth adding,” she said.

Oster said the city’s staff works to accommodate caterers, and has made changes like adding circuits to the power outlets so they don’t trip when high-powered convection ovens are plugged in.

“The city is doing everything they possibly can to make it more user-friendly,” she said, and caterers are accustomed to cooking off-site and then warming food before serving it.

Whitten said companies that want to hold dinners, a group that wants to host a lobster bake for top customers and her own wine-and-food event are willing to work around the drawbacks.

Whitten said she just insists that the water views aren’t blocked from inside, because views are what people expect.

“I always make sure that the waterside is clear,” she said. Being near the water “feeds the soul. At the Gateway, you can smell it, feel it and see it.” 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]