A propane distribution company has filed plans to move from Thompson’s Point to Riverside Street, clearing the way for redevelopment of the former industrial area on the Fore River.

Moving Suburban Propane to a city-owned parcel on Riverside Street has been a key goal of Thompson’s Point developers. It will free up a valuable rail-side parcel where developers want to build a new event center and an expanded transportation center to replace the existing bus and rail terminal just to the north. The city Planning Board would have to approve the move.

Ultimately, developers want to turn the 30-acre peninsula near Interstate 295 into a mixed-use neighborhood with a hotel, restaurants, residences and office buildings, in addition to the event center.

City Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said the transportation center proposal is still just a concept. But moving the propane company would consolidate ownership of the property just to the south of the railroad tracks and that could accelerate planning efforts.

“This definitely helps,” Mitchell said. “It clearly helps pave the way to look at different options to creating a more robust transportation center either north or south of the tracks.”

Developer Chris Thompson said they would like construction of the new propane facility to begin before the end of the year, and to have the company relocated by summer or fall of 2017. That would allow him to lay the groundwork for the $20 million events and athletic complex, which has long been the focal point of the development.

“We’re pretty excited to have arrived at this point in the project overall,” Thompson said. “We’re probably still a few months out before we’re able to see plans go forward for the event and athletic facility, but we’re still planning on moving forward with it.”

Developers rolled out the initial Thompson’s Point proposal in April 2011. The $100 million plan included a hotel, convention center, offices and new arena for the Red Claws basketball team. The project has been modified several times since, and now includes residential buildings.

No major construction has taken place, but several of the existing brick buildings are being renovated and reused by creative industries such as the Open Bench Project, a membership-based group that provide studio, work space and tools. Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. and Cellar Door Winery plan to occupy the Brick North building and the site has already been used as an outdoor concert venue and skating rink.

Thompson said renovations are expected to begin this summer on another existing building, known as Brick South, which could be completed this fall.

The relocation of Suburban Propane has been years in the works. Fore Front Partners I, LLC, the developers of Thompson’s Point, entered into an agreement with the city in 2013 to purchase four acres near 636 Riverside St. for $300,000, where it is relocating the business. The developers will also pay $2 million to build the new propane facility.

According to planning documents filed with the city on Feb. 29, Suburban Propane wants to build three structures on Riverside Street: A 7,300 square foot office building made out of prefabricated metal, a 2,146 square foot, two-bay garage to service vehicles and a 4,000 square foot cylinder storage dock. The proposal also includes three, 30,000 gallon liquid propane storage tanks and related equipment.

The proposed site is currently undeveloped and located next to the Presumpscot River.

“We recognized the value of this business and the service they provide and we’re pleased to have a site zoned industrially that would permit the use in Portland,” Mitchell said. “Vacant industrially zoned property is scarce in Portland.”

If the propane facility is approved, the move would clear the way for a new events center and a new, larger transportation center that would service existing bus and rail services based out of the Portland Transportation Center, including Concord Coach Lines and the Amtrak Downeaster. It would also provide garage parking for an events center.

A preliminary sketch showed the transportation center and events center being connected by a sky-walk. But Patricia Quinn, the executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said there is no specific design for the transportation center and that it is only a “high level idea.”

“As that project moves forward it will give us the opportunity to maybe do a more in-depth needs assessment and figure out what next steps might be,” Quinn said. “We do hope to integrate a transportation center into an event center.”

The city’s legislative delegation last year pursued a $28 million state transportation bond to help pay for the project, but nothing came of the proposal.

City Planning Director Stuart “Tuck” O’Brien said the project’s city-approved master development plan will expire in 2024. If that occurs, the developer would have to seek a new master plan approval or apply for individual permits for each building project.

The project also received a tax break – in the form of a Tax Increment Financing District – from the council in 2011 that is expected to return roughly $32 million to developers over the next 30 years, if the $100 million project is fully built. Those tax breaks are expected to start once the developer invests $5 million in the property.

Mitchell said city officials are reviewing whether the project has reached that threshold. That analysis should be completed in early April, he said.

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.