The city of Portland is moving forward with plans to create a new public park along the eastern waterfront, an area that is being transformed by tens of millions of dollars in private investment.

But the scope of work, for now, is well short of an ambitious plan to create a $16 million destination waterfront park that has been called Portland Landing. The proposal has drawn criticism from some in the city who question spending taxpayer money on a park that they say will mostly benefit cruise ship passengers, corporate workers and owners of upscale condominiums.

As officials figure out ways to raise money and public support for the destination park, construction of an interim park with swinging benches and a plaza for events and food trucks, among other things, is expected to get underway this spring.

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, who leads the council’s Finance Committee, said funding was included for the nearly $176,000 interim project several years ago. He said that the interim project does not mean the city has made a final decision to move forward with the more expensive park.

“Whatever we do going forward, we’re going to have to identify what we can afford to spend and what exactly we’re going to do,” Mavodones said Friday. “And there will have to be a public process to go along with that.”

Officials solicited bids for the “Portland Landing Interim Park Design” in October. A city official said the bid was for the construction of a park that already has been designed by Stantec engineering.

The interim park, according to the city’s request for proposals, is expected to have raised planter beds, benches and low walls made of reclaimed granite, trees and perennials, lawn areas, walking paths along the water’s edge, a wooden guard rail, swing benches, a plaza, and a small parking area and roadway for Sail Maine, a nonprofit sailing school.

The bid was awarded to Seabreeze Property Maintenance, which beat out three other companies, with its bid of $175,860. Grondin Contracting came in with the highest bid at nearly $310,000.

Although the bid documents describe the park as temporary, the improvements could be incorporated into a permanent waterfront park, said Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director.

Grondin, who has no connection to the construction company, said the interim park will not have a formal name and would need to go through a city process to become permanent. She said the work was funded mostly to meet a requirement associated with the planning board’s 2005 approval of the Ocean Gateway Terminal and would not need any additional approvals.

City Manager Jon Jennings first announced his intention to build a waterfront destination park at the Amethyst Lot in 2016. The 1.5-acre parcel is just east of the Ocean Gateway Terminal.

City officials unveiled an ambitious proposal in 2017 to create a park with an area for outdoor events, a boardwalk, large oversize steps leading down to the water and a community boating area. Plans called for a more natural area along the northern upland side, including berms and other features to protect against storm surges. And Moon Tide Park, a tidal area that contains contaminated dredging material from the 1980s, would be expanded by 15 feet in each direction.

The fiscal 2018 capital improvement plan included $300,000 for “Amethyst Lot engineering,” which is being used to develop the interim park.

Jennings also has proposed building a boardwalk from the Maine State Pier to the Ocean Gateway Terminal, where local artists, craftspeople and other small, tourist-related businesses set up stands along a stretch of waterfront that is teeming with cruise ship passengers during the summer. He also has proposed converting a portion of the Portland Ocean Terminal on the Maine State pier into retail and office spaces, while maintaining over 80 percent for active marine use.

Grondin said both of those plans are pending before the council’s Economic Development Committee.

However, over the summer, the city extended Thames Street from its former terminus near the Ocean Gateway Terminal into 58 Fore St., where developers are seeking approvals to begin redeveloping the former Portland Co. complex into a new mixed-used neighborhood.

The plans for the Portland Foreside development at 58 Fore St. called for the relocation of the Eastern Promenade Trail and a state-owned rail line used by the Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. closer to the water’s edge. The first phase of that redevelopment, which includes the restoration of historic buildings, a public plaza leading from Fore Street to the waterfront and corporate office space, is pending before the planning board.

The public improvements are being proposed in an area that has seen some of the most intense development activity over the last five to 10 years.

More than $150 million has been, or is being, invested in developing the India Street neighborhood, including the Wex corporate offices, AC Hotel, the Shipyard/Covetrus complex, and a recently approved office building and parking garage at 100 Fore St., among others. Several other residential condominium and hotel buildings also have been built in the area.

The city’s bid leaves the door open for the $16 million park project.

“Given the expected high cost for the full park design and the fact that it is expected to take many years to complete a funding plan for the full Portland Landing design, the city of Portland has decided to proceed with a scaled-back ‘interim’ park design that will transform the site with temporary park-like features at a much lower cost,” the bid document states. “By implementing an ‘interim’ or ‘pop-up park’ on the site, the site will be activated as a park while we continue to raise funds and public interest for the full park implementation in the future.”

The $16 million park concept unveiled two years ago has drawn criticism from residents who accuse the city of creating the space to benefit cruise ship passengers, newly established corporate workers and luxury condo owners who have moved into the area in recent years.

“Why should the citizens of Portland subsidize a park for $17 million or $16 million dollars when this park is basically being used by non-Portlanders such as workers from WEX, 58 Fore St. complex, and tourists from the cruise ships?” Munjoy Hill resident Karen Snyder said Friday. “If anything, the cruise ships should be taxed to pay for this park and not the residents of Portland.”

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