PORTLAND, Maine — The city may be in the midst of a development boom, but Portland officials said a new market-rate apartment building at the corner of Pine and Brackett streets represents something the city hasn’t seen in decades.
Mayor Michael Brennan, City Councilor David Marshall and City Manager Mark Rees on Tuesday joined developers for a ceremonial groundbreaking for West End Place, a $6 million, 45,000-square-foot project that will stand four stories and hold 39 apartments and two street-level retail spaces.
Marshall said he thinks it’s the first large-scale apartment building that hasn’t needed a government subsidy, tax break or zoning waiver since Portland adopted its building codes in the 1950s.
It also stands out as a market-rate apartment complex amid the affordable housing and luxury condominiums that have otherwise dominated the city’s recent development boom.
“Not everyone wants to own property, and not everyone fits into the subsidized housing category. And with a vacancy rate around 1 percent in Portland, we’re in need of all types of housing,” Marshall said Tuesday.
Other new large-scale residential complexes to be constructed in Portland in recent years have been either affordable housing, such as the second phase of Avesta Housing’s 54-unit Pearl Place project, or luxury condominiums, such as the 86-unit Bay House project on Middle Street.
And both of those projects benefited from government subsidies or tax givebacks.
“There hasn’t been a market-rate apartment building built in Portland in a long, long time,” said lawyer Paul Peck of LWS Investments LLC, part of a development group that also includes Jonathan and Catherine Culley of Redfern Properties. “Most of it has been subsidized.”
Peck said West End Place developers plan to rent out apartments for between $1,300 and $2,200 per month. He said the retail spaces will be 1,500 square feet and 500 square feet, respectively, and the project will include 34 parking spaces inside the structure.
“We’re anticipating a neighborhood market or something like that on the corner, and in the 500-square-foot space something like a studio or salon — something that fits in with the community,” he said.
In addition to being notable as a market-rate housing project that won’t need city or state help to get established, the development will revitalize a high-visibility corner in Portland’s West End, Marshall said.
“For over 15 years, I’ve stared at a parking lot [in this location] with three deteriorating buildings that were vacant. It was a really disheartening downward pull on the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s really exciting to see this key intersection get filled in with a very new-urban style apartment building.”
The project comes against a backdrop of a flurry of housing projects in Portland. More than 900 housing units of varying market levels have been proposed, permitted or are being built in Portland in this decade.
Tim Gebhardt of Gebhardt Property Management, which manages a number of apartment buildings in the city, was on hand for the Tuesday event. He said he immediately receives 50-75 inquiries whenever he advertises a one- or two-bedroom unit in the neighborhood.
“We need housing in Portland,” Brennan said during Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony. “The good news for Portland is that we’re growing as a city. People are moving here. They want to live in the city, they want to live in the downtown. So we have a demand for housing, we have a demand for apartments.”