Development on $105 million Portland project could begin in June

May 2, 2013 in Articles

Author: Dennis Hoey
Publication: Portland Press Herald

When finished, phase one of The Forefront will have a 4,500-seat event center, office buildings, a hotel, a sports medicine facility, a parking garage and a restaurant.

The Libbytown section of Portland, looking up Park Avenue toward the I-295 overpass.

Development of the $105 million mixed-used project known as The Forefront at Thompson's Point could start in June, according to one of the partners in the firm that plans to make over the point of land that juts into the Fore River.

Christopher Thompson told about 60 people Tuesday night that the project, which was approved in June by the city's Planning Board, could take as long as 24 months to complete.

When finished, phase one of The Forefront will have a 4,500-seat event center that will host outdoor concerts in the summer and serve as home to the Maine Red Claws basketball team in the winter.

The complex also will have two office buildings, a hotel, a sports medicine facility, a 700-space parking garage and a restaurant, Thompson said.

"We have made tremendous progress," said Thompson, who told the audience that The Forefront will lead to several street and sidewalk improvements in the surrounding Libbytown neighborhood.

As part of the project, the city and the Maine Department of Transportation, along with the developer, were given a $3 million grant to design and construct traffic improvements in Libbytown.

The city is also considering several options -- such as speed tables, traffic circles and center islands -- to slow traffic on 11 side streets.

Most of the people who attended Tuesday's presentation at the Italian Heritage Center live on the streets, between Brighton Avenue and Congress Street.

"There is an awful lot going on in Libbytown, but I like to think that Libbytown is where it's at," said Edward Suslovic, the district's city councilor.

Suslovic said Tuesday's meeting was held to update Libbytown residents on all of the changes that are planned in their neighborhood, which is generally considered the streets off Park Avenue and Congress Street between Sewall Street and Gilman Street.

Traffic engineers said Thompson's Point Road will be rebuilt and widened from two to three lanes.

The road, which will connect The Forefront at Thompson's Point to the Fore River Parkway and Congress Street, will have an 8-foot-wide walking path.

Sewall Street will be improved to accommodate pedestrians.

New sidewalks and curbing will be installed, along with street lights.

Traffic engineers are also considering converting a section of Park Avenue and Congress Street -- between Denny's restaurant and St. John Street -- from one-way to two-way traffic.

Engineers said they are looking at redesigning and possibly removing some of the ramps that connect Libbytown to Interstate 295.

Suslovic said, "Some of these ramps are redundant (two ramps on Congress Street provide access to the northbound lanes).

"A lot of valuable land is being tied up. We have an opportunity to make these areas safer and to knit back the fabric of the neighborhood that used to exist here."

In the early 1970s, about 100 houses and apartment units were torn down to make way for the highway and interchange -- a project that historians say "cut Libbytown to shreds."


Naysayers are wrong about Portland’s building boom

April 1, 2013 in Articles

Author: JUSTIN LAMONTAGNE
Publication: MaineBiz

What do two parking lots, a long-vacant office building, a junkyard, an under-utilized concrete public park and an abandoned warehousing complex have in common?

Each, thanks to some very capable and aggressive greater Portland developers, could be upgraded to usable commercial and living space within the next 12 months.

Support for commercial development and positive re-positioning of older inventory properties both seem to have increased since the recession. While cynics and NIMBYs will always make their concerns heard, I suggest the business community continues to project supportive voices, collectively and loudly. In years past, the reactionary attitude of a vocal minority has complicated or derailed incredible opportunities. Public support, whether via the media or town meetings, should be in favor of seeing reasonable projects happen.

Take, for example, the very active and well publicized hotel activity in downtown Portland. When J.B. Brown & Sons, East Brown Cow, Jim Brady and Rockbridge Capital each announced plans to add more than 400 hotel rooms in the coming year in separate projects, the immediate public reaction seemed to be "No, Portland can't handle that many rooms."

In my opinion, the focus should be on the vast, overall improvements to a tired, existing inventory.

For example, Brady is proposing to convert the former Portland Press Herald building, vacant for two years and a landmark along Congress Street, into a gorgeous boutique hotel. Congress Street is struggling commercially as office tenants are looking for newer inventory and retailers battle difficult vehicular traffic patterns and inconsistent foot traffic. A hotel development at this building would be an incredible boon for an area that, frankly, needs it.

J.B. Brown has broken ground on a new Courtyard by Marriott on Commercial Street. East Brown Cow has cranes in the air for the Canal Plaza Hotel, which will include a restaurant and more than 700 square feet of retail space. Each hotel is being built on what was a simple asphalt parking lot. Parking is a necessary convenience in the Old Port but, personally, I would rather see tourists and new businesses in town than snow-covered Chevys and Fords.

The Federated Cos. at the city-owned Bayside land and the Forefront at Thompson Point continue their efforts to attract anchor office tenants and break ground. Whether they are successful or not, there is no question these projects will add incredible value and life to stretches of our city that are industrial in nature and vastly underutilized.

Lastly, it baffles me that anyone would question Rockbridge's plans to transition Congress Square Plaza on High and Congress streets into hotel convention space. The plaza is far from valued "green-space"; rather, it is a concrete eyesore that currently attracts exactly the wrong kind of patronage and use.

The definition of development is growth and directed change. Responsible real estate development, of course, warrants careful consideration and reasonable questioning. But these projects that are currently in the pipeline are growing and changing our fine city for the better. To that end, they have earned and deserve our unwavering support.

Justin Lamontagne is a broker at NAI The Dunham Group in Portland. He can be reached at justin@dunham-group.com


Looking up on the Hill

February 25, 2013 in Articles

Author: Tom Bell
Publication: Portland Press Herald

After decades of decline, Munjoy Hill has become the city's most desirable neighborhood – with housing prices to match.


Developer gets OK to turn Portland landmark into hotel

February 7, 2013 in Articles

Author: Dennis Hoey
Publication: Portland Press Herald
PORTLAND – A developer won the approval he needed Wednesday night from Portland's Historic Preservation Board to convert a downtown landmark into a boutique hotel and restaurant.

Portland hotel work to turn Fore Street in one-way road

February 7, 2013 in News

Author: Randy Billings
Publication: Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — A section of Fore Street will be reduced to one lane for more than a year to accommodate the construction of a hotel, the city said Thursday.

From next week until May 2014, traffic on the section of Fore Street from Dana Street to Union Street will be one-way, heading west, to make room for construction of the Hyatt Place Portland hotel.

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