The addition of plazas, green spaces and other improvements are part of an ambitious plan for the eastern waterfront between Maine State Pier and Ocean Gateway. Contributed / Portland Harbor Common Plan

Much of the more than 10 acres between the Maine State Pier and the former Portland Company property on the city’s eastern waterfront is paved and used for parking, but a group led by former University of Southern Maine professor Richard Barringer hopes to turn it into a “world-class civic space.”

“We see this as the best option to protect against future development of the last remaining publicly owned stretch of land along the waterfront. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Barringer told the City Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee last week.

The area eyed for the project is now primarily paved and used for parking. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The goal of the Portland Harbor Common Plan “is to offer the city a framework for a signature piece of public land – one that will complement its working waterfront, leverage recent investments in public infrastructure, increase public access to the eastern waterfront, support a variety of public activities and add to a vibrant city.”

The plan was drafted by Barringer, professor emeritus at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, Patrick Costin of Canal 5 Studio, Michael Boucher and Amy Magida of Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture and Barry Sheff of Woodard & Curran,

“We hope you consider this platform a great gift to all the people of Portland at a time we could all use a lift and the best option to create a world-class civic space,” Barringer said.

The plan, still in draft stage, covers an area between the Maine State Pier and the Portland Landing site and includes:

  • The potential of installing a roundabout at the intersection of Franklin and Commercial streets; replacing the Portland Ocean Terminal building with a public plaza, pavilion and transportation hub for Greater Portland METRO;
  • Constructing a pier at the end of India Street; relocating the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad terminal closer to Ocean Gateway;
  • Developing waterfront land from India Street to the Portland Company into a series of green spaces, plazas, gardens and a playground;
  • Creating a public landing with water access at the end of Thames Street.

Barringer, who worked as the commissioner of conservation and director of state planning under three Maine governors, said the plan is based on research from the United States and abroad about what makes a great public space on a waterfront.

Economic Development Committee member Andrew Zarro welcomed the effort to improve that space.

“Looking at great waterfronts of the world, one day Portland, Maine will be up there,” he said. “It should be already in my opinion.”

Barringer said that shortly after the international ferry was discontinued in 2019, he approached City Manager Jon Jennings about putting a pro-bono team together to propose a reuse plan to city staff. The plan was supposed to be presented at this time last year. but the pandemic put that on hold.

The eastern waterfront has historically been used by ferries and cruise ships, but a new proposal recommends using much of the property from the Maine State Pier and the Amethyst Lot as public gathering space. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The project as yet has no funding.

Committee Chairman Spencer Thibodeau said “the funding piece” has been a barrier that has stalled other proposed projects in this area, including Portland Landing, another ambitious plan to add green space and other amenities to land east of Ocean Gateway, including Moon Tide Park and the Amethyst lot.

“There seems to be a clear consensus to put a public green space in that area of the waterfront,” he told the Forecaster. “Both of the plans speak to that.”

Both projects, he said, encourage the city and community to “think big” about public use of the eastern waterfront.

Although a price tag has not been attached to his proposal, Barringer said he is not worried about funding for the Portland Harbor Common project.

He intends to circle back with city staff to come up with a first phase for the project, price it out and look for state and federal money and private donations “before returning to the city for further consideration.”

He also intends to reach out to neighborhood groups, such as the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, Friends of the Eastern Promenade, residents of Munjoy South and representatives of Sail Maine, Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, Portland Trails and the developers of the Portland Foreside project for input.

Barringer said there has been interest from the private sector about the vision of the Portland Harbor Common Plan, and that funding could also be available through the National Parks Service Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program, a program that supports outdoor recreation projects in urban areas.

Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director, said the plan is ready for public input.

“We have not had a public process on the plan, so there would need to be more discussion with the stakeholders on the waterfront,” he said. “We have been very engaged with those stakeholders in the past, so we would want to have discussions and receive input on the plan.”

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