Portland officials are testing the viability of their redevelopment vision for the Maine State Pier.

Staffers from the city’s economic development department intend to present their proposal to convert part of the Portland Ocean Terminal into retail and office space to key audiences in a series of meetings this month. Based on the feedback it receives, the department may move forward with a business plan to develop the property through a public-private partnership, said waterfront coordinator Bill Needelman said.

“We are testing the concept,” Needelman said. “This is the due diligence prior to moving forward with anything.”

The city wants to convert part of the aging terminal building into a public seafood market and startup incubator that would invite foot traffic from cruise ship passengers, residents and tourists.

The city has wrestled for more than a decade with how to redevelop the blue, 90,000-square-foot building, easily identified by the “Whaling Wall” mural on one of its exterior walls. The city-owned building has tenants, including a tugboat business, lobster processor Ready Seafood and equipment storage for cruise ships, but is partially vacant.

In 2007, dueling developers pitched $90 million plans to turn the property into an office, restaurant and hotel complex, but the proposals fell through amid political controversy and an economic downturn.

The new concept is intentionally smaller and aimed to complement existing uses on the pier, such as marine businesses, cruise ship passengers and Casco Bay Lines ferry traffic, Needelman said.

“The market-type use that is being proposed would occupy less than 20 percent of the ground-floor building. Over 80 percent would remain in active marine use,” Needelman said. “This is a far more modest and achievable set of recommendations we are testing, compared to previous redevelopment proposals.”

The city does not have a cost estimate for the project.

Needelman will present the city’s redevelopment plan in a series of meetings aimed at specific groups over the next month, including Casco Bay Lines, the seafood and food and beverage industries, and the Peaks Island Council.

The point is to find out if a public market-style redevelopment would be a welcome addition that can provide value to existing waterfront uses, Needelman said.

“What we are hoping for is that the market will expand opportunity for the food economy so that it is not unduly competing with private developments on the waterfront,” he said.

Some issues likely to be raised by island residents are parking and pedestrian traffic in the area, said Randy Schaeffer, chairman of the Peaks Island Council transportation committee.

The abutting Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal is the primary mainland contact point for island residents, who sometimes have to “wade through” crowds of people coming to Waterfront Concerts on the pier. Island residents also have seen the ocean terminal as a possible future area for islander parking, Schaeffer said.

“It is a positive thing for the city, but there are some day-to-day realities that will hopefully be taken into account as the planning process proceeds,” he said.

Charlie Poole, president of Proprietors of Union Wharf, said the city is trying to do the same thing as any other wharf owner – bring in enough revenue to maintain and repair its property.

“We have thousands of square feet that aren’t being used and we have to make them work,” Poole said. “If the buildings aren’t rented, it isn’t helping us.”

The city, and Needelman specifically, have made a serious effort to have an open and inclusive process and collect honest feedback, Poole said.

“I think the question is, what can go in there and not take away from other aspects of the waterfront. That will remain to be seen,” he said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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