Needelman Sets Priorities for City’s First Waterfront Coordinator Position

Bill Needleman,  City's First Waterfront Coordinator

Bill Needelman, City’s First Waterfront Coordinator

By Carol  McCracken  (Post # 1,701)

“When I saw the job posted, I thought that’s one I need to apply for.  It was the first job I’d applied for in 14 years,” said Bill Needelman last week in his new office at city hall. Needleman submitted his resume.  He was interviewed and hired from a large pool of applicants – a popular choice by all accounts. Previously Needleman was a senior planner for the city on the fourth floor. He began his new duties in early December of 2013.

The importance of this newly created position is clear – since his office, albeit small, is just a stone’s throw from his new boss City Manager Mark Rees on the second floor of city hall.  He’s now part of the Executive Department. “There’s been an unprecedented amount of change and activity on the waterfront recently. The market demand has caught up with opportunities that have always been here in Portland,” Needelman said as a reason for the creation of this slot.

Much of his time these days is focused on the return of the Nova Scotia Ferry to Portland Harbor.  “We have to be sure the Ocean Gateway facility is ready for the ferry and vice versa,” he said.  ” Everyone is working diligently to meet the May 1st goal.”  While in the planning office, he was responsible for the permitting process for the Ocean Gateway facility for the city, so there are lots of overlap from his planning role.  Planning for the Ocean Gateway began in 2000 and it first operated in 2008. “Now I get to work toward bringing a new tenant to the facility for its intended purpose.  It’s very gratifying to see this come full circle,” he said. A constant reminder of that work and what lies ahead is a stunning, framed photo he took of the sunrise over Ocean Gateway, on his office work table.

Needelman actually works as a liaison between waterfront interests and local, state and federal governments.  From Thompson’s Point to Fish Point (on the East End), the coastline measures between 2 l/2 to 3 miles.  But between those Points, there is a unique coastline to work with.  While he’s still new to the post, it will be a challenge due to the many waterfront interests within that space.  There is the fishing industry, the  tourism industry –  which are often at odds with each other.   There is private ownership as well as public ownership of the waterfront. The waterfront has a history of being the center of controversy between competing interests as the smart Needleman knows as well anyone around.  The Waterfront Wars are well documented.  “It will be helpful to have a single point of contact on waterfront issues as we go forward,” Needelman said.

A longer term goal of his is working on the development of the western waterfront.  In the near future a corridor study will be conducted to determine infrastructural needs for West  Commercial Street.  It will be done by a consultant through an RFP process.

The unflappable Needelman has deep roots here in Portland .  He grew up in Portland and had the good fortune to have spent time on the Islands of Casco Bay as a youth.  His great-grandfather rented property on Little Diamond where he spent a lot of time.   He left Portland to attend college in Boston, returning upon his graduation.  “I have no regrets about that decision.”

“The future of the waterfront is looking very bright.  We see investment from the Portland Company up to Thompson’s Point,” he said.  “That’s a good thing.”