At 9:15 pm this evening and after going into executive session for about 20 minutes, the Economic Development Committee decided not to vote up or down the sale of 56 Parris Street in Bayside to Jack Soley for $175,000.00. The property is currently used as a parking lot to support 55 Portland Street employees.
Soley did not attend the meeting and representing him was Pete Harrington of Malone. The proposal that will be taken up in the future, consists of twenty-one bedroom condominium units with a cost of below $200,000. per unit. One on-site parking space is proposed per unit. Promoted as “workforce” housing, critics have questioned what kind of a workforce could afford these units and shouldn’t some kind of public benefit be accrued from the sale of public property? Leverage for environmental issues for example could be imposed. The EDC. chaired by conservative Councilor David Brennerman does not think so. These guys are Democrats? Of what stripe and variety?
Another lengthy round of presentations, a panel and discussion focused on Mayor Strimling’s proposed amendments to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) continued. Generally, the intent of the proposal is to gain employment and educational opportunities for Portland residents who qualify in the construction field – for example, veterans, immigrants and women, although that could open up the TIF to legal challenges. Conservative Brennerman’s disdain for the concept has been apparent all along. Tonight he was as grim as if he were preparing for his own upcoming autopsy. Councilor Thibodeau was less contentious toward the Mayor than he has been in the past. That was because he had center stage. That was until Brennerman, FINALLY, reigned Thbodeau in telling him not to conduct a “debate” during the meeting.
Meanwhile, Brennerman is running a campaign to water down what is basically a progressive idea because he and Thibodeau are having difficulty justifying the banishment of it- a tactic the two have pursued at past meetings. Thibodeu tried to dismiss the amendments to the TIF policy at the last meeting; there were more important items on the agenda, such as the future of the Maine State Pier. But the idea remains a good public policy tool to help resolve issues. the two finally figured that out. Watering down a proposal by the liberal and popular Mayor is apparently the better option for the EDC office.
A panel with experience with apprenticeships as a student or administrator was convened. Their testimony contradicted comments of previous panels – putting the TIF policy in a more favorable light than Brennerman and Thibodeau liked. Mayor Strimling offered amendments to his proposed amendments to the TIF policy he initiated months ago. The subject will be taken up at the mid-September meeting again because Greg Mitchell, chair of the Economic Development office will be on vacation on September 5th. (See above right photo of the Panel.)
The first item on the EDC meeting was a presentation by Ethan Hipple, Parks Director, of the anticipated Portland Landing Project (PLP). Billed to give people public access to the waterfront, it is heavily defined by revenue producing opportunities for the city. It includes a 20 ft. long Promenade with development of the Moon Tide Park for rental purposes, a corner where charter boats can dock and a large area for SailMaine to function. Clearly, it is being developed with the reality that the Maine State Pier will be used differently than it is now.
The cost of the PLP is $16M with funds from the approved sale of nearby WEX property helping finance the project. The final decision on the cost of the PLP will be determined by the City Council and how much it wants to spend. City manager Poor Jon said that he hopes that some of the funding will also come from private donations. Mayor Strimling asked if the project might be done in phases to which Poor Jon responded no. (Clearly, Poor Jon gets agitated whenever the Mayor seeks information from him or has an idea, as he did at tonight’s overlong meeting.)
The completion of the former Amethyst Lot is two years off. The four hour meeting adjourned at 9:30 pm.