After over two years of study, the City Council will make a decision Wednesday about the designation of a Portland Co. Historic District. Preservation advocates and CPB2, the development team, haven’t come to consensus on the elements of a designation.

The city’s Historic Preservation Board and Planning Board have each made somewhat different recommendations to the City Council.

What to do? The building in contention is the erecting shop of the Portland Co., the building you enter when you’ve attended the flower show or other exhibition (also known as Building 1). The developers want to demolish this building and in return have proposed to convey a public access easement to the city.

What is more valuable to the public – a guarantee of public access from Fore Street toward the waterfront, or the rehabilitation and reuse of the erecting shop?

The preservation of the erecting shop is essential to the ability of this complex to physically convey the scale and scope of the Portland Co.’s manufacturing importance in Portland’s, Maine’s and the nation’s history.

Portland’s stellar reputation as a city that’s preserved the historic character and ambiance of much of its downtown has won it many accolades. The rehabilitation of the Portland Co. complex, including the erecting shop with its expansive windows and early 20th century industrial character, will certainly strengthen that reputation (see the concept drawing above).

What’s the value of guaranteed public access through the site? With retail and office uses anticipated as well as housing, the survival of this development depends upon public access. The developers will provide this access to meet their own needs to ensure a successful project as well as to meet the requirements of the city’s Eastern Waterfront Master Plan.

The better solution is clear: The public stands to gain more from preservation and reuse of Portland Co.’s erecting shop than from its demolition for a public way.

Sally Oldham


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