Jennings Meets Over the Weekend on “Working Waterfront Group” Issues

City Manager Jon Jennings.

City manager Jon Jennings had a busy, busy bunch of meetings over the weekend he told members of the Economic Development Committee this afternoon. First, he met with two leaders of the lobster lobby; Willis Spear and Keith Lane. That was on Saturday. Then, Jennings met with some pier owners. That was Sunday. Then he met with David Bateman. That was on Monday. The contents of all these conversations were not divulged. There was nothing in writing either.

Jennings said he understands that the lobster lobby is trying to “preserve their livelihoods for their kids and grandkids.” They are also looking for space to store their gear and believe they are being crowded out by commercialism. Although David Bateman, developer of the exclusive Inn at Diamond Cove, has amended his application to remove plans for a hotel from the wharf, fishermen remain concerned about what might replace that project.

The last item on the agenda was an executive session by the Committee, Greg Mitchell, Director of the Economic Development office and Jennings to discuss a sale opportunity of the city owned Fort McKinley Hospital, on Great Diamond Island, near the Bateman Inn. It’s a tax-acquired property.

Chair of the EDC asked Jennings about zoning issues. Jennings responded that “It’s so serious that we have planned a planning board workshop for January 22. A draft for an ordinance change to eliminate any contract zoning in the waterfront zone will be presented.” It also needs to go to the City Council for approval, but no problems are anticipated there. Jennings said that in an depth discussion about TIF will be conducted during a February meeting. Jennings did not mention the concern the lobster lobby has over the disappearing number of parking spaces on the waterfront. The expected opening of the 200-seat seafood restaurant, Luke’s, on Portland Pier this spring is an example.

Last year the EDC had said in response to a request from the hospitality industry that a feasibility study would be outsourced early this year to determine whether or not a
Convention Center was a realistic project. Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, a member of the ED Committee, said he had healthy skepticism about the feasibility of a Convention Center for Portland and that a feasibillty study needs to be done. This is a project that the tourist lobby has long supported. Whether or not there will ever be a Portland Landing, currently Amethyst Parking Lot, is unclear. However, some of the $1. million from the sale of the WEX property to the city will finance crucial stone wall work that needs to be done in the area.

Jennings said there are other projects for the EDC to review in the future, but it is premature to publicly reveal them. Something about a new graduate school, maybe?