Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ocean Properties plays catch-up

So tonight was the first official public hearing for the Maine State Pier proposals (see previous post and follow-up). The City of Portland Community Development Committee, which oversees development proposals that involve city-owned property like the pier, hosted presentations from each development team: first Ocean Properties, with a significantly revised plan, then Olympia, with the same plan wrapped up in some strong "we're from Portland, they're not" themes.

Since Olympia has been much better about putting their proposal out for the public to see (here and here), this post will focus on the more enigmatic Ocean Properties plan.

Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the meeting and most of Ocean Properties' proposal. If anyone has anything to add, please comment. But I did take a long look at their fancy new architectural model (see photos) and renderings, and I'm happy to report that there seems to be significant improvement from their design submitted to the city last month.

As mentioned before, this proposal does have one strong public good that the other lacks: a public market. According to Bob Baldacci, the governor's brother, this one will engage in wholesale trade (which the failed Portland Public Market on Cumberland Avenue never did), and it could take advantage of its waterfront location to promote new markets for local fisheries. Note to Olympia: the first floor of your proposed office building fronting Commercial Street would make a fantastic space for a wholesale/retail market, too.

Other than that, though, the initial plan from Ocean Properties had plenty of room to improve. They're now sincerely flattering their competition with a familiar-looking waterfront park on the land side of the pier and a committment to LEED-certified buildings. Where the first proposal put the huge parking garage right next to the existing Casco Bay Lines structure, such that the entrance to the pier would have been dominated by a gauntlet of ugly vehicle storage buildings, the new scheme opens up a sliver of park at the pier's entrance and moves the garage down the block.

The newer proposal also makes broad and slightly clueless gestures towards "green building" (stay tuned to the next post for details), probably a response to the Olympia plan to certify their project with the US Green Building Council.

Many deficiencies still remain nevertheless, including a surface parking lot with waterfront views in two directions and a questionable financial plan. And the Ocean Companies people still seem clueless on a number of fronts - from placemaking to transportation demand management to making their plans available on the web (only part of the old proposal, still riddled with amazing amounts of grammatical errors, is on their architects' web site).

There's still plenty of time for both teams to improve their plans: the CDC will meet again next month and accept some public comments, and a number of public forums will probably happen in the meantime.

No comments: