A recent Portland Press Herald editorial (“Our View: Portland Co. great opportunity for city,” Nov. 21) suggests the Portland Co. project on the Eastern Waterfront could be equivalent to the Old Port as a signature area of the city, a focus of dynamic economic activity. We at Greater Portland Landmarks agree.

Remember that the Old Port in the 1970s was a seedy place of disinvestment. Its vitality blossomed in the late 1980s, resulting in a rich mix of uses, repurposed historic buildings intermingled with buildings of contemporary design, all adjacent to a working waterfront.

I think we could all agree that the Old Port would not be the Old Port if owners had demolished more than half of the buildings there. But this is just what is being contemplated for the Portland Co. site.

According to news reports, the development group desires to preserve just five buildings of 14 identified as contributing to the historical importance of the site. According to Sutherland Conservation and Consulting, in a research report recently commissioned by the city, the complex has local, state and national significance as the last remaining intact historic locomotive manufacturing complex in the country.

We at Landmarks applaud the developers for taking on this project. We want them to succeed. But for a site so important to both Portland’s past and future, there must be an interconnected process of reviews by the Planning Board, the Historic Preservation Board and the City Council, involving workshops, public involvement and public hearings at each level.

Landmarks on Sept. 2 requested that the Historic Preservation Board nominate the Portland Co. complex as a local historic district. It is our belief that it would help the city, the Planning Board and the developers achieve clarity about the historic resources that should be taken into account in planning any development scheme.

When the Historic Preservation Board considers a designation, it will address the boundaries of a proposed historic district, but if they follow the general guidelines from the National Register of Historic Places as the city’s ordinance directs, they will likely hold the boundaries to the immediate areas of the site that encompass the historic buildings and site features deemed to contribute to the significance of this complex.

The footprint of the buildings in question is no more than 35 percent of the site area plus areas connecting these buildings. This is all that would be within historic district boundaries, a far cry from what your editorial described as a request “to put the entire property into a historical preservation zone.”

This is a large site with significant land to support much development beyond the area of the historic complex.

When the Historic Preservation Board takes up consideration of a historic district designation, they will deal with the historic significance of the complex as a whole, of individual structures and the condition of the buildings that the developers want to rehabilitate or tear down.

The 10-acre site proposed for development will provide an exciting range of opportunities for mixed uses, as is true in the Old Port. If the site is designated as a local historic district, the Historic Preservation Board would review plans for rehabilitation of the historic buildings and new buildings proposed for construction within 100 feet of the district’s boundaries, but this review need not impede creative development plans.

The Old Port shows excellent examples of where new buildings have been integrated into the historic context, such as the CIEE Building right next to the historic Custom House on Fore Street.

In fact, designation as a historic district could bring a financial boon to the developers, making rehabilitated buildings eligible for tax credits of as much as 45 percent (a 20 percent federal credit and 25 percent state credit), credits that can be sold to investors to raise equity to support the development.

Neither the developers nor the city should have anything to fear from treating the historic significance of the Portland Co. complex with the respect it deserves. A Nov. 19 Press Herald article (“Bid for Portland Co. zoning change raises concerns about waterfront views”) said that if the complex were declared a historic district, “development plans could grind to a halt.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, it may well be that a more complete preservation of the special and unique qualities of these buildings will create the signature development that will draw people to this project and ensure its success for generations to come.