The Portland Buy Local organization, now in its 10th year, has a mission of educating its members and the public about the benefits of supporting our local economy. It is in this capacity that the board of Portland Buy Local would like to convey its concern over the recent proposal on Forest Avenue by CVS to demolish five existing buildings, several of which house local, independent businesses, in order to build a national chain store. We would be remiss if we did not point out to the city leadership both the physical and economic impacts of the CVS proposal.

The Portland community has recently been engaged in a citywide conversation about growth and change. At the heart of the debate is the question of not whether Portland should grow or change but how. We at Portland Buy Local believe the proliferation of local businesses is an essential and desirable component of Portland’s character. A proposal like the one on Forest Avenue erodes the fundamental DNA that locals and visitors alike cherish about our city.

First, there is a physical benefit to preserving buildings like those proposed to be torn down by the CVS project. Recent attention has been given to Forest Avenue as a major corridor with streetscape improvements at Exit 6 and plans to transform Woodfords Corner.

Replacing five existing buildings on Forest Avenue with a single building surrounded by parking drastically changes the character of this critical gateway location and undermines work that has already been done. Not only does preserving the existing buildings keep the desired feel of the street, it also has the impact of preserving small-scale, affordable real estate for our local, independent businesses.

Second, there is economic benefit to the City of Portland in preserving buildings like those proposed to be torn down by the CVS project – higher tax revenues and employment. Cities gain more income through property taxes when there is a high number of small, dense parcels with buildings. By tearing down five buildings and combining several smaller parcels into one larger parcel with only one, low density building, the City will lose property tax revenue in the process and jobs will be displaced. In other words, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

The Portland Buy Local board hopes that the community outcry over the CVS project brings to light some of the policy changes needed in the city to protect our local character and quality of life.

With the city’s recent stated interest in concentrating more effort in developing Forest Avenue, we hope those goals are achieved through thoughtful planning and not simply letting those with the deepest pockets determine the future of that area. Portland has grown tremendously as the economic engine of Maine and as a magnet for innovative, entrepreneurial individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

The appeal of our city for those who want to vacation here, live here, and work here stems from the unique character our independent businesses and restaurants create. Tourists want to visit our city because it is not like any they have visited before. Residents want to live here because of the variety of offerings and the close connections our locally-owned businesses provide.

And business owners want to locate and start their businesses here because they see it is a place that values independent businesses and it is a place where they have the potential to thrive.

If we as a city do not carefully plan our development, we may end up with a series of strip malls and chain stores that do not add to our city’s vision of creating a good life for all and, in fact, detract from it economically, aesthetically, and culturally. While we will continue to advocate for our mission and our membership, we also welcome the opportunity to be a resource and community partner as the city tackles the challenge of change.

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