Renderings of the proposed Franklin Street redesign project show one vision for the project that could make way for as many as 1,000 units of affordable housing. Courtesy Franklin Reclamation Authority

Portland City Councilors voted unanimously Monday night to approve a partnership with the state to move forward with redesigning Franklin Street.

The partnership means the Maine Department of Transportation will match the $125,000 the city has already allotted to the project. That $250,000 will be used to hire a contractor to finalize a design proposal and budget to overhaul the street. That plan could be used in applications for federal funding down the line.

The Franklin Street Redesign project has been in the works since 2006 and would overhaul the throughway connecting Interstate 295 and downtown Portland. The project would push all four lanes of traffic together to create space for sidewalks, housing, bike lanes and businesses.

A big part of the push for the redesign stems from a desire to reverse the impacts of urban renewal, a popular design trend in the ’60s that decimated walking and biking infrastructure and razed low-income neighborhoods to make way for major roads. Franklin Street was once a bustling urban neighborhood, and advocates want to reclaim that through the redesign.

Amy Oberlin, a Munjoy Hill resident, spoke in favor of the redesign.

“I want to just emphasize that the housing element of this project is what’s going to make it really work,” she said. “I urge the council to vote yes.”


With the funds from MDOT, the city will issue a request for proposals from designers. Once a designer is selected, an updated design will be sent along with grant proposals to help the city secure federal funding to help pay for the project. The entire project is estimated to cost at least $26 million.

Councilors Victoria Pelletier and Roberto Rodriguez were absent from Monday’s meeting.


Councilors also voted unanimously to designate a greenspace in Libbytown as a city park and to name it Thomas Park. The land was gifted to the city by the Thomas family in the early 1900s for use as a park. Descendants were present at the meeting and urged the city to support restoring the park’s former name and designation. Local historian Herb Adams also attended the meeting in support of restoring the park.

“We have to make sure when we name public places for individuals and families that we make sure they are the real thing. I can assure you that the Thomas’ were the real thing,” he said. Adams went on to explain that the family were early abolitionists and offered their home as a stop on the underground railroad.

“I think their example is that which we should all be so lucky to do in our own short compass of years here in this city,” he said.


Councilor Regina Phillips also spoke in favor of the proposal, which she brought before the council. Phillips said she has been working with the Thomas family for several months.

“The only thing the family is asking for is to restore this park to what it once was,” she said.


Carol Schiller, who has been instrumental in the effort to reestablish the park brought a poster-board with a proposed design. Public art, lighting, an event and recreation lawn, shaded park benches and bikeshare facilities were among the ideas she offered. While this particular vote doesn’t guarantee any funding for building infrastructure in the park, Schiller said it could be the first step toward reviving the space.

“The restoration of this park holds the potential to revitalize a neighborhood. Thomas Park, hidden in plain sight, it’s time to celebrate and activate this part as intended,” she said.


The council also voted unanimously to issue a $1.2 million loan to support the Dougherty Commons affordable housing project, which will create more than 60 units of affordable housing.

Greg Watson, director of housing and economic development for the city, said the developer was asking for assistance from the city to fill a gap in their budget. The city voted to make a 30-year payable loan to the developer.

“Anything that will bring housing to Portland is welcome,” said Councilor Pious Ali.

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