A proposed land swap would transfer ownership of 10 acres near the Cumberland County Jail to the city of Portland in exchange for a marine terminal on Commercial Street.

Portland now leases the International Marine Terminal to the state, which will assume ownership if the City Council approves the deal. The state would also take ownership of, and assume maintenance responsibilities for, the Cliff Island wharf, just as it has with other wharves on Casco Bay.

“We are pleased that this process is moving forward,” Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note said in a written statement. “If approved, this transaction will help strengthen the state’s investment at the International Marine Terminal and support the continued growth of Eimskip’s liner service to the Port of Portland.”

In addition to the 10 acres on County Way near the jail, the city would receive the Park & Ride lot on Marginal Way and the former Union Branch rail corridor, from Forest Avenue around Deering Oaks and Hadlock Field to Park Avenue. The corridor includes a railroad bridge over Park Avenue and planning is underway to convert the span into a bike-pedestrian corridor, the city said in a news release.

The proposal, which will be reviewed Tuesday by the City Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, results from negotiations that began in 2019, when the city was looking at potential sites for a new 200-bed homeless shelter.

Neighborhood residents and advocates for homeless people expressed concerns at the time about building a new shelter near a jail, fearing it would be a risk to client safety.

The council ultimately selected a city-owned parcel on Riverside Street and is in the process of choosing a developer to build the facility.

Once the city ruled out County Way as a potential shelter site, the state informed city officials that it was pausing negotiations because it wanted to study whether the County Way property could be used to build a new train station. In February, the state released a report that recommended building a new station at or near the Union Station strip mall on St. John Street.

Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director, said events during the past year – the coronavirus pandemic, racial justice demonstrations and the homeless encampment at City Hall – stalled negotiations.

“The pandemic really just sent everything sideways from an overall time perspective,” Mitchell said. 

City Manager Jon Jennings had also floated the idea of building a new public safety complex on County Way.

But Mitchell said the city does not have any plans for the property and future use would be determined through a public discussion among city leadership and residents.

“Cities should be planning for their growth, as strategically as they can, in terms of what real estate is left and how to influence the direction of development on that real estate,” he said. “This is a large tract of land, which is scarce on the peninsula. We thought that site control and ownership of the property made sense so we could have a public discussion at some point in the future about how we’d like to influence the direction of future development.”

Portland now owns the International Marine Terminal, which is home to Eimskip’s shipping operations. It leases the facility to the Maine Port Authority for $145,000 a year, according to a city spokesperson, who said the lost revenue would equate to a 2 cent increase on the city’s tax rate in the coming years.

The city said in a release that the state “continues to make major multi-million-dollar investments in the Marine Terminal site and adjacent State-owned properties to support international cargo shipping through Eimskip’s operations, along with the proposed cold storage facility. Adding the city-owned property to the adjacent state-owned property makes sense for the state and the city.”

The release states that the city could install electric vehicle charging stations at the Park & Ride lot next to the Miss Portland Diner on Marginal Way.

And Mitchell said the city was excited about being able to add a bike and pedestrian connection from Forest Avenue to Park Avenue, a route that includes Deering Oaks, the James A. Banks Sr. Portland Exposition Building and Hadlock Field.

“(It’s) nothing short of phenomenal,” he said.

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