Phineas Sprague Jr.’s dream of reviving Portland’s marine businesses on the western waterfront appears to be back on track after half a decade of fits and starts.

Sprague, through a company called Canal Landing, has proposed constructing three new buildings and boat storage areas across 8 acres next to a boat maintenance shop operated by Sprague’s Portland Yacht Services company.

By building extra space for water-dependent businesses, Sprague hopes to keep Portland’s marine industry viable for the foreseeable future.

“The vision is to create a shipyard for Portland with a marine complex associated with it that is strong enough to keep going to a couple of generations,” Sprague said in an interview, noting the impact of upscale development all along the city’s waterfront, including restaurants, offices and other non-marine uses.

“Right now the pressure on the waterfront is intense, because people like to be on the waterfront and they are willing to pay to be there,” he said. “Marine businesses aren’t strong enough to be able to pay rent. The future is dependent on changing that dynamic somehow.”

The current development proposal is part of a master plan for almost 18 acres of former industrial and railroad land along Commercial Street west of the Casco Bay Bridge. The overall development will eventually include a new boat lift, a maintenance building for large boats, a second boat ramp, floats, docks and reconstructed piers, according to a project application submitted Dec. 14 to the Portland Planning and Development Office.

The current proposal is Phase III of the master plan development. It includes the construction of a 19,800-square-foot marine retail and boat maintenance building designed for Hamilton Marine, a waterfront storage building for racing shells, and a multistory office building, restoration and stabilization of boat yard areas and a 2 to 3 acre secured area for vehicle parking, equipment and marine cargo storage. In total, approximately 30,250 square feet of new building construction is expected, according to a letter from Stantec Consulting Services to the planning department.

The current proposal is essentially the same plan approved by the Portland Planning Board in 2016, but work on the site did not start before the one-year permit expired.

Construction never started on the project because an agreement with its main prospective tenant, Hamilton Marine, was delayed because of unfortunate personal circumstances, Sprague said.

Building a new home for Hamilton, a boating and sailing equipment and supply store, is necessary because of pressure on the company’s Fore Street location from the commercial and residential redevelopment of the nearby Portland Co. property. That project entails redevelopment of about 10 acres of industrial waterfront property into high-end apartments, shops, restaurants, hotel rooms and a new marina.

Hamilton Marine did not respond to interview requests.

“In reality we thought the Portland Co. project would be moving ahead much quicker than it was,” Sprague said. “If that was the case, then the imperative to move would have been higher, the timing would have been better.”

“The writing is on the wall, the issue is how do you respond to it appropriately in a way that is economically sound for Hamilton and will support the working waterfront?”

In 2012, Sprague planned a boatyard on a 22-acre parcel just east of the current site that would have space for boatyards, retail and office buildings and large boat maintenance sheds. That plan was derailed when the Maine Department of Transportation took most of that land through eminent domain for an expansion of the International Marine Terminal after Icelandic shipping company Eimskip relocated its North American headquarters to Portland. Instead, Sprague is pursuing development on a smaller parcel bisected by a rail line.

“Luckily, we were able to preserve the opportunity for Eimskip to come into Portland, but it messed up our plans for the boatyard,” he said.

 

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