Friday, April 27, 2007

India is the new Exchange

That's India, the street, not the subcontinent. While the Maine State Pier catches most of the attention, this entire neighborhood is in the midst of a huge transformation that will extend the pedestrian environment and high rents of the Old Port two or three blocks eastward, over the barrier of the Franklin Arterial and up to the base of Munjoy Hill.

Just breaking ground on the corner of Fore and India Streets (look for the rubble of the old Breakaway Tavern) is the Riverwalk development, which has been in the works for a couple of years now. The City sold most of the land for this project to the developers on an agreement that they would build a massive parking garage that will extend along the entire block of Fore Street between India and Hancock.

The development will also incorporate and renovate the Grand Trunk Railway office building on the corner of Commercial and India Streets. The vaguely nauseating pastels in the architectural rendering (left) depict the project from Commercial Street looking west. I'm a little bit creeped out by the trees that have been genetically engineered for semi-transparency, but otherwise, I'm encouraged that the architects and developers seem to be working hard to create a vibrant streetscape on the waterfront, even if there's a huge white-elephant parking garage going up in back.

Just across India Street, a proposed Westin Hotel and luxury condo development that would have replaced the Jordan Meats hot dog factory has lapsed into a dead proposal. Among the factors leading to the project's downfall are rising interest rates and a cooling residential market, some sleazy dealings by one of the developers, and the prospect of a publicly-subsidized hotel a few blocks away on the Maine State Pier.

In spite of these problems, all of the activity going on in the neighborhood makes it very likely that this site will be a big redevelopment site in the next few years. In the meantime, the abandoned hot dog factory remains to entice trespassers, and yet another exciting automobile storage enterprise is bustling in the building's old parking lot.

Finally, just up the hill on Newbury Street, the owners of the Village Cafe are thinking about tearing down their building and surrendering their Wal-Mart-sized parking lot to make way for a complex of 4-6 story condo buildings. Here are two grainy photos of the development proposal I snapped at City Hall a few weeks ago:

The buildings would include ground-floor retail space and a new home for the Village Cafe along Middle Street (at lower left in this picture):

I've witnessed some grumbling about the new luxury condos "gentrifying" this neighborhood, but for the most part, all these buildings are replacing are a bunch of dirt parking lots. It's true that some neighbors will probably see their rents increase as the area becomes a nicer place to live. At the same time, though, a significant increase in housing supply here will help keep home prices affordable across the region, and many of the households moving into a new condos on the Eastern Waterfront will put less-expensive homes for sale elsewhere. And I'm sure that the hundreds of new residents of these tony buildings will be cash cows for Portland's precious local businesses: for instance, all those lap dogs moving in should induce a Pavlovian response from our city's platoon of pet boutiques.

Additionally, even as rents grow more expensive in the neighborhood, an enhanced pedestrian environment and new retail space downtown could reduce transportation costs for all Portlanders as we find ourselves less reliant on our automobiles. This, of course, is another irony of the huge parking garage going up in the middle of the district, but nevertheless, I'm looking forward to this brand-new Old Port.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for getting the pics of the Village site on here. It basically looks like the very first Westin Hotel plan. I would have to see a better pic to get the overall effect, but anything down there is good news.

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