Developer Mike Dugay believes the best way to raise money to preserve Fort Gorges, a Civil War-era fort in Portland Harbor, would be by building a restaurant, brewery and possibly a bed-and-breakfast inn on the island property. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Two groups committed to seeing Fort Gorges remain undeveloped are rallying support in the face of a developer’s proposal to commercialize the 150-year-old former military fort in Portland Harbor.

Considering it is a 150-year-old fort in the middle of Portland Harbor, Fort Gorges is in pretty good shape. Some sections, however, are off limits to the public. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Mike Dugay, of Portland, is examining the possibility of adding restaurants, shops or even a bed-and-breakfast on the island and has informally presented his vision to the city.

City Communications Director Jessica Grondin said the city, which owns the property, was approached about developing part of the fort, but “it never got to the point of a formal proposal or concept,” she said. “(It was) just an informal discussion with city staff.”

Dugay, meanwhile, told the Portland Press Herald the way to save the fort is to “open it up, put a landing out there, put some nice restaurants out there.

“We would stabilize it, save it, and have some value added to it,” he said. “There are lots of old buildings in Portland that have been saved by adding new uses.”

While Dugay floats his suggestions, Friends of Fort Gorges and the Portland Parks Conservancy are hosting a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 5:30 p.m. at East End Community School on North Street to find out what the public might want to see at the Fort.

“We won’t be looking at renderings or blueprints at the meeting, but want to take a pulse of the room to see how people feel and what they want to see,” said Nan Cummings, executive director of Portland Parks Conservancy.

Paul Drinan, executive director of Friends of Fort Gorges, said his group is committed to maintaining and improving public access to the fort, which was visited by 6,000 people last summer.

Friends of Fort Gorges Executive Director Paul Drinan explains a project that would improve access to the island for larger boats. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

“We have no aspirations to completely renovate Fort Gorges. We simply want to stabilize it to keep it accessible for future generations,” he said.

Drinan said overall the fort is in excellent shape, other than some crumbling interior bricks on the second floor of the gun casements, and the interior parade grounds on the third level, which was never completed and is overgrown with weeds, plants and trees.

“The Friends feel the city could be doing more as the property owner,” Drinan said. “There are many things they could be doing to enable the Friends and help them improve the property.”

Work was done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Friends in 2017 to improve safety for visitors, but additional work to improve access and the visitor experience is still needed, he said.

The group’s board has approved a $50,000 plan to improve boat access to the island by installing a pressure-treated deck, fortifying the wharf, and creating a path from the wharf to the fort’s main entrance. Drinan said the goal is to do the project this fall.

“Having that would allow us to ramp up our programming for 2020,” he said.

The second, more expensive undertaking, dubbed the preservation plan, would improve access to the southwest parapet of the fort overlooking mainland Portland by replacing the 20-year-old wooden staircase with a metal structure. Temporary cribbing would also be added to failing interior archways.  The project is expected to cost $420,000, half of which would be contributed by the city, the other half by Friends of Fort Gorges fundraising efforts.

Cummings said Portland Parks Conservancy agreed to partner with Friends of Fort Gorges and the city to raise funds for the effort.

Ultimately, Drinan said, the Friends group would like to create several scenic vistas on the fort’s top level connect them via a boardwalk, and install interpretive signs that highlight the fort’s history.

Fort Gorges (pronounced “gorgeous”), was built between 1858 and 1864 and was modeled after Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The fort, named for Sir Fernando Gorges, a colonial proprietor of Maine, was last used for storage during World War II. It was declared surplus property after World War II, and the federal government conveyed Fort Gorges to the city in 1960.

The fort was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In 2013, Greater Portland Landmarks placed the fort atop its annual “Places in Peril” list, noting that “the scale, lack of access, and need for maintenance and investment create challenges to its preservation.”

“The architecture is tremendous,” Drinan said. “There will not be another Fort Gorges.”


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