Naysayers are wrong about Portland’s building boom

April 1, 2013 in Articles

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  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it




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