Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling is continuing to express frustration with a plan to build a $1.2 million extension of Thames Street to benefit a private investor.

The city filed an application to build an extension to Thames Street, which is a key component of a huge development planned for the eastern waterfront and agreed to two years ago.

The project will extend Thames Street and utilities east 300 feet and connect with Portland Foreside, a planned complex that includes residences, restaurants, shopping, a marina and a hotel at the former Portland Co. property.

Public investment for a street extension is required under a 2016 purchase-and-sale agreement for a plot of city-owned land Portland signed with CPB2, the company behind the Portland Co. redevelopment.

The City Council sold the 12,000-square-foot parcel to CPB2 for $400,000 and agreed to extend Thames Street.

At the time, Strimling opposed the deal, partially because the land was assessed for $900,000 and because it appears to only benefit a private developer. The assessment assumed the property was accessed by a public way, which it is not.

“We sold the land for way less than we should have,” Strimling said Friday. “The developer should have taken on much more of the expense of the road. It is going to serve their property and their property alone.”

Strimling said he is uncomfortable spending so much public money to benefit a private development with an uncertain future.

A master plan for Portland Foreside was approved by the City Council in 2017, but so far the only sign the plan is moving forward was a July request for bids to expand an adjacent marina. Portland Foreside developers plan a marina that can accommodate “mega-yachts.”

“I think we are all sort of wondering what is actually happening down there,” Strimling said. “We have a list of priorities in the city. Building this road to a development that we don’t even know is going to happen, it doesn’t seem like the most responsible way to spend taxpayer money.”

Casey Prentice, managing partner at Portland Foreside, did not respond to interview requests Friday.

In the city’s site plan application, engineering firm Woodard and Curran said the extended street, utilities and a new sewer outfall will help facilitate development in the area. “The Eastern Waterfront area is one of the oldest districts in the city of Portland, and one of the first areas of the city visible from the sea,” the firm said in a July 3 project description. “As such, redevelopment of this area has been an emphasized initiative over the past decade.”

Portland spokeswoman Jessica Grondin did not respond to questions or an interview request with city staff involved in the project. The proposal will only be reviewed by city planning staff and does not need any further municipal or public review.

Extending Thames street was envisioned in a 2006 master plan for the eastern waterfront and is part of Portland’s 2017 comprehensive plan. The city budgeted $1.4 million for the project in its 2018 capital improvement plan.

Thames Street currently runs east from an intersection at India Street and ends at a parking lot and the Eastern Promenade trail beyond Ocean Gateway Pier.

Portland’s East End is undergoing a transformation, with new hotels, corporate headquarters and condominium developments sprouting up all over the India Street neighborhood and the eastern waterfront.

If the Thames Street extension is built, it would run next to an envisioned waterfront park called Portland Landing that would replace an underused 1½-acre Amethyst parking lot near the Ocean Gateway ferry terminal.

The park would include sailing and community boating facilities, berms to protect against sea surge, event space, trees and lawns. Last year, city staff estimated the park could cost $16 million.

 

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