Ethan Hipple, Portland’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, stands in the waterfront parking lot that the city plans to turn into a park. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Portland plans to start construction on a new waterfront park along Commercial Street within the year, bringing a green space to the area that many say the waterfront has been missing for too long.

Portland Harbor Common will be built at the end of India Street, on 2 acres of land that were once ferry queuing lanes; they’ve been used for parking since 2018, when the ferry to Nova Scotia stopped running.

Ethan Hipple, the city’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, presented detailed plans for the park to the City Council last week. The design features a new, wider section of the Eastern Promenade trail stretching in a half-moon shape around a grassy open space. There will be shade trees, benches, native plants, a performance space and an area for food trucks to park.

“We’re going to put in a nicer banister, get rid of the picket fence,” Hipple said Thursday morning while standing in the expanse of asphalt and gesturing toward the rickety edging around the empty lot.

Design plans show the future Portland Harbor Common along the eastern end of Commercial Street. Rendering courtesy of City of Portland

This winter, the parking lot has served largely as an impound lot for cars towed during snow plowing. But the lot also has reserved parking spots for people who work on the waterfront and for islanders who commute into the city. The park will require eliminating half of the 250 parking spots. While Hipple said he recognizes a need for parking in the neighborhood, he thinks there are better uses for the waterfront.

“I think a better place to add parking is a few blocks in, not along the water’s edge. We don’t want to give up prime real estate to parked cars,” he said.



Judy Katz-Leavy says she walks her dog, Wally, along the Eastern Promenade trail every day.

She makes her way along the peninsula, taking in the views and stopping occasionally so Wally can rest. He is big and fluffy and plods slowly along the trail without a leash, never far from her side.

“We’ve lost a lot of green space,” Katz-Leavy said. “And I like to walk my dog and enjoy the outdoors so I’m very much in favor of a park here.”

Katz-Leavy, 79, lives in the neighborhood and says she has become concerned over the years that the eastern waterfront is being paved over with too many parking lots and new buildings.

“I hope the park will be welcoming, with some comfortable benches. It’s already a beautiful view,” she said.


A rendering of Portland Harbor Common, which the city plans to break ground on this summer or fall. Rendering courtesy of City of Portland

The city plans to break ground on the park sometime this summer or fall. Once construction begins, the project is expected to take six to eight months to complete.

Hipple first started planning a park in the neighborhood in 2016. Back then, he imagined something stretching all the way along the waterfront, creating a green space extending from the bottom of India Street to the Eastern Promenade park. That proposal involved rerouting sewer mains to create a living waterfront with a beach.

But the city was worried about the cost, and just as funding efforts got started, COVID-19 hit, and work on the park was paused. Not long after that, a group of citizens came forward with a scaled-back vision for the park. It would be smaller and cheaper, only covering a 2-acre section of the existing parking lot.

“Something to build on,” said Hipple.

The city paid $150,000 to Sebago Technics to design the park. The rest of the costs are being paid for with $2.1 million in federal funding and $370,000 from the Portland Parks Conservancy.

The city will be responsible for park maintenance once the project is complete.


“This park comes at almost no cost to the taxpayers,” Hipple said.

A rendering of the planned Portland Harbor Common, which 2 acres of land that were once ferry queuing lanes. Rendering courtesy of City of Portland


Elizabeth Sage, 45, said she and her young children are thrilled about the plans.

“It seems like cars get more space than pedestrians and public transit,” she said. “So bring on parks, not parking.”

Sage says her family often eats at restaurants in the area, and she can imagine heading to the park in the summer with the kids before a dinner reservation. She likes the idea of a public space on the waterfront.

“Trees, benches, the smell of fresh air – people need to be able to access this land, and if it keeps getting used for more buildings, there won’t be any public space left,” said Sage.


Sylvie Zackrone, a sales associate at Fish and Bone on India Street, said she’s looking forward to having a park in the neighborhood.

“It will be so much nicer to look at,” she said.

A rendering of Portland Harbor Common, a scaled-back version of a Commercial Street park first proposed in 2016. Rendering courtesy of City of Portland

Zackrone, 29, said she has a dog and is hopeful that one day the park might have an off-leash area for dogs to run around. But even without that, she’s happy she’ll be able to enjoy a grassy space with a nice view after work.

“There are so many parking lots around here. I’m actually more anti-parking lot than I even am pro-park, to be honest. They just take up a huge majority of space in the city,” she said.


Hipple says the park has been designed with people in mind. He envisions performance events on the small stage that will sit near the front of the park. He imagines people fishing over the new banister and laying out picnic blankets on the grass.


But the park was built with something else in mind too: climate change. Maine has had an exceptionally rainy winter, and Commercial Street is flooding with increasing frequency. A park on the waterfront is better aligned with coastal resiliency practices than a parking lot or new building, Hipple said.

“If there were no buildings and no civilization here, it’s not really an issue if the sea level rises; the coast would find its natural resting place,” he said. “But buildings, utilities and vehicles get damaged. So, you’re trying to build coastal resiliency to protect those things.”

Portland Harbor Common has been designed with people in mind, said Ethan Hipple, the city’s director of parks, recreation and facilities. Rendering courtesy of City of Portland

A park serves as a buffer between the ocean and vital infrastructure, Hipple said. It’s also much cheaper to fix than a waterfront building, or a parking garage. Green space provides a permeable surface, so when water rises, trees and native plants absorb the water. The design for Portland Harbor Common calls for saltwater hardy plants, so even if water does someday flood the park, the plants will survive.

The hope for this park is that it will be the beginning of a larger project, something like what the department was working towards before COVID hit. 

“We’re thinking of this as Phase 1,” said Hipple. Phase 2, he says, would be tying Harbor Common together with Amethyst Park to create a green space that stretches clear around the eastern peninsula.

“That’s in the future, but we wanted to get something done now. We can use it and people can learn to love it, and that will give us the momentum to keep moving,” he said.

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