The owners of the Miss Portland Diner say access to the parking lot next to the diner on Marginal Way was included in the original purchase-and-sale agreement as an asset to help the diner attract business. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

On most days, the parking lot next to Miss Portland Diner fills up early – first as workers clock in, and then later as customers sip hot coffee and await stacks of pancakes.

But a new proposal might mean a different future for the city-owned lot on Marginal Way in Portland, one that owners of the historic restaurant say could threaten its survival. 

The lot could become the site of an affordable housing development with anywhere from 70 to 300 units and a handful of electric vehicle charging stations, according to the city council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee.

The space is about 31,000 square feet, roughly the shape of a long, narrow triangle alongside Interstate 295. The lot has been used as a park-and-ride stop and serves the diner with parking and delivery access. Other Marginal Way businesses and apartment-dwellers also make use of the spots.

The site is perhaps an unusual choice for housing: shallow in depth and tapering to a point at the eastern end. City officials say the dimensions may prove challenging for architects and engineers. But as Portland continues to battle an affordable housing crisis with limited space available, creativity is key. 

Tom Manning, co-owner of Miss Portland Diner, recognizes the need for more affordable housing, but he fears that developing the lot could mean the end for his landmark restaurant. 


“Parking is premium to restaurants,” Manning said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It would kill our business if we were to lose that.”

The idea was floated in a memo to the Housing and Economic Development Committee, and no formal proposals have been made for developing the lot. Following a committee meeting Tuesday, councilors are hoping to find a compromise.


The 1949 Worcester Lunch Car Co. diner was originally located on Forest Avenue and then moved to 49 Marginal Way, not far from its current site, in 1964.

Forty years later, a previous owner was unable to sell the rail car-style restaurant and donated it to the city of Portland.

In 2007, when Tom and Stefanie Manning stepped forward to purchase the diner, the City Council agreed to sell it to them for $25,000 along with a small piece of city land for $75,000. (Stefanie Manning is a group vice president of Masthead Maine, a network of news and media outlets that includes the Press Herald.)


Portland officials saw the deal as a way to help revitalize the Bayside neighborhood, and stipulated that the diner stay local. Access to the parking lot was included in the purchase-and-sale agreement as an asset to help the diner attract business, the Mannings said in a letter to the committee. At the time, the lot was owned by the state, and Portland helped negotiate parking rights.

The Mannings spent $1 million to move the diner to its current location at 140 Marginal Way, make site improvements and build an addition that includes a modern kitchen.

But the lot has since changed hands – it’s not clear how – and now belongs to the city.

The Mannings said they were disappointed that the entity which “went to bat” for the diner is “overlooking the impact on us now that they own (the lot).”

We have put our heart and soul into making the diner the city landmark it deserves to be – and we did so with the City’s promise to offer parking,” they wrote. “It is our hope that the city will keep its word, as stated in our purchase-and-sale agreement, as it considers future development sites in Bayside.”



Councilor Mark Dion noted the couple’s concerns and told committee members on Tuesday that as they move forward, the council should consider the impact on a historically significant local business.

“When it comes to the Miss Portland Diner, we’re dealing with a cultural artifact and landmark that we should not discount so early in this conversation,” he said. 

But that doesn’t mean the lot will be untouched.

Councilor Pious Ali, who suggested the site, said that he initially did not know the complications associated with the property. He was sympathetic to the Mannings’ concerns and suggested looking into a compromise that might accommodate all three of the proposed uses: housing, parking and delivery for the restaurant, and electric vehicle charging. 

“I adore that restaurant and what it represents,” Ali said. “The Miss Portland Diner should continue to exist there.” 

Tom Manning hopes it doesn’t come to that. The lot is small, and he doesn’t see a lot of room for housing and the restaurant to co-exist, though he’s not opposed to EV charging.

But Ali is still committed to seeing some housing on the lot.

“If it is one family unit, that is one family unit that we don’t have (now),” he said. 

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