December 17, 2017
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Hops and smell the roses? Portland live/work development would include botanical garden, brewery

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff
Updated:

PORTLAND, Maine — It’s an updated twist on a business park.

Amid Portland’s building boom, developer Ronald Gan has entered an new idea into the fray: A development where entrepreneurs can work in the same place they live adjacent to a brewery, a restaurant and a lush botanical garden.

Gan, whose forte is multi-family homes and condominiums in Portland’s Munjoy Hill, is asking the city of Portland to sell him an underused swath of land off Riverside Street, across from a golf club, for the imaginative project.

“I love this land. It was a visceral connection,” said Gan, walking the undulating three acres next to Interstate 95 where his vision for Riverside Innovation could one day rise. He’s tapped Portland firms Bild Architecture and Aceto Landscape Architects to help design the five-building complex.

“We are in a time where people can chose to live and work in Maine if they have a space like this,” said Gan, who hopes to build two-story, loft-like studios with garage doors to attract Millennials and expand Portland’s economic footprint. “The location, on the fringe of Portland, could attract craftspeople, food growers and those doing production work from home.”

Inspired by the success of co-working facilities like Peloton Labs and Bayside’s shared kitchen hub Fork Food Lab, Gan says a public/private complex that encapsulates the work ethic of Millennials anchored by a brewery would make this forgotten zone a hotbed of creativity and, like East Bayside, a new destination.

“This is the next step up. This is what the market has told me,” said Gan, who could not find suitable land on the jam-packed peninsula for his brainchild.

The concept won’t be decided overnight.

The multi-tiered planning review process involves “a department-wide survey, including the mayor, district councilor of the property in question, and at-large city councilors to determine if the property is [in] excess to the city’s needs or not,” said Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director.

Gan dropped off plans at City Hall last month and was set to present Riverside Innovation before the Land Bank Committee in late April, but learned city officials need more time to digest the provocative plan.

“This land is not for sale at this time and there would be a public process, potentially an RFP [Request for Proposal] even if we decided to sell the property,” said Grondin. The city’s economic development director Greg Mitchell declined to comment.

Undeterred, Gan is pushing forward with his proposal. If he can’t do it here, he will shop the concept elsewhere off the peninsula.

“We have to re-evaluate, across the entire city, how we use our land,” said Gan. “We have to be more flexible in how we use it and we have to be willing to explore uses that we once thought were incompatible.”

Evan Carroll, co-founder of Bild Architecture, a former co-worker himself, is enthused about the new-for-Maine concept, which thrives in areas like Boulder, Colorado.

“It’s exciting to be introducing something to Portland. We have built a lot of multi-family homes on Munjoy Hill. This feels like putting out a concept that the area doesn’t know it’s ready for yet,” said Carroll. “It’s meant to be a public process.”

To Gan, Riverside Innovation dovetails with the city’s 2017 comprehensive plan, which embraces dynamic uses of land.

“It’s an opportunity to start the conversation about the need to more quickly analyze land use and become more flexible with zoning,” said Gan. “I know that the market wants this.”

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