A developer who has been talking with city officials about putting restaurants and shops in Portland’s historic Fort Gorges says he may continue to pursue the idea despite strong opposition from the nonprofit group formed to maintain and preserve the island park.

Mike Dugay, who worked in development in Florida before moving to Portland, said he’s proposed raising money to preserve the decaying fort in Casco Bay by building restaurants, shops and perhaps a bed-and-breakfast there. He said he began considering the idea about two years ago after hearing about the fort from Paul Drinan, executive director of the Friends of Fort Gorges, during a fundraising event.

“If you want to save the fort, open it up, put a landing out there, put some nice restaurants out there,” Dugay said Friday. “We would stabilize it, save it, and have some value added to it. There are lots of old buildings in Portland that have been saved by adding new uses.”

Developer Mike Dugay says that putting restaurants and shops – and perhaps a bed-and-breakfast – on Fort Gorges would be the best way to save the Civil War-era fort in Portland Harbor. That runs counter to the vision of a group dedicated to preserving the island fort and increasing public access to it. Michael Kelley/The Forecaster

But when Dugay outlined his plans to commercialize the fort to members of the Friends of Fort Gorges in February, the presentation was “shocking and disappointing,” Drinan said. The group’s board of directors opposed the plans as inconsistent with its mission to preserve the fort and improve access to the public.

Drinan said the friends group is not opposed to a public-private partnership at Fort Gorges, but said it must be consistent with the goal to stabilize and preserve the fort while providing public access.

He is encouraging people to pack the room at a Sept. 4 public forum to share their thoughts about the future of the park. If the overwhelming feedback is that the public does want Fort Gorges commercialized, the friends group will have to re-evaluate its mission, he said.

That public forum will be at the East End Community School, and is hosted by the Portland Parks Conservancy, whose mission is to raise philanthropic support for new initiatives to enhance Portland’s parks and recreational programs.

The conservancy’s board of trustees is focusing on Fort Gorges in 2019 and is hosting the forum to get feedback about potential solutions – including the possibility of commercial development – to maintain the unique park.

Dugay said Friday that he is considering ways to go forward with his ideas for Fort Gorges, by possibly building support within the Friends group and among Portland’s general public.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin, without naming Dugay, said someone approached the city with the idea of developing Fort Gorges, and that the discussion was informal and never got to the point of a formal proposal or concept. She could not say whether the city would be interested in considering a proposal for a business use at Fort Gorges, pointing out that the upcoming public forum is intended to discuss the future of the fort.

The Friends group met with Dugay and city staff about the idea multiple times early in the year, Drinan said.

“We were assured by the developer and the city that this project would not move forward without the Friends’ blessing,” Drinan said.

The last time a plan was floated for a commercial development at Fort Gorges was in the 1970s, when Tony DiMillo discussed putting a restaurant and casino on the city-owned island, Drinan said. Since then, discussions of Fort Gorges have largely centered on preserving the structure.

The 2-acre fort is accessible only by boat and is popular with kayakers. Named after Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the two-story, enclosed granite fort modeled after Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, was completed in 1864. Declared surplus property in 1960, the U.S. government conveyed Fort Gorges to the city of Portland. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Drinan thinks most people in the community want to preserve Fort Gorges for future generations and avoid what happened at Union Station, the Portland train station that was demolished in 1961, sparking the city’s historic preservation movement.

“This is our Union Station,” Drinan said of Fort Gorges. “There will never be another one.”

But Dugay says his plan would help preserve the fort. He envisions using the historic officers’ quarters as a bed-and-breakfast.

“If you have businesses out there, you can bring people out on a ferry and they can all enjoy it,” Dugay said. “The way it is now it’s isolated and access is very limited.”

 


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