June 22, 2018
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Developer proposes changes on Portland’s Maine Wharf

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Developer Patrick Tinsman is planning to overhaul an 8,500-square-foot building on Portland’s Maine Wharf, a project that promises to restore another high-visibility waterfront site in Maine’s largest city.

Building 1 on Maine Wharf, the structure closest of two to Commercial Street, has been vacant since a partial collapse of the floor slab last fall, according to a site plan application Tinsman’s architects submitted to the city.

The developer wants to resurrect the waterfront site with a new first-floor exterior, outright replacement and expansion of the downtrodden structure’s second floor, and the addition of a partial third floor. Work to stabilize the pilings and collapsed floor slab are underway, according to the application.

While no tenant contracts have been signed for the building, Tinsman’s site plan application adds a restaurant to the proposed allowable uses for the facility, joining the previously listed office and fish market uses.

“I think it’s a good project,” said planning board member Bill Hall during a Tuesday night meeting, during which the board voted unanimously to grant the project site plan approval. “I like investment. It is somewhat speculative, but if it meets our zoning, I don’t have a problem with that. Even if you don’t know the final use.”

The planned Maine Wharf renovations and additions represent the latest return of activity to Portland’s long staggering waterfront. Last month, the City Council approved new leases allowing lobster processing company Shucks Maine Lobster to move into nearly 19,000 square feet of a previously underutilized Maine State Pier building, as well as for tenant Ready Seafood Co. to more than double its 11,200-square-foot space at the site.

In 2011, the International Marine Terminal at the other end of the Portland waterfront underwent more than $5 million in renovations, upgrade work credited with helping attract high-profile Icelandic shipping company Eimskip this year.

Also in 2011, the five-story landmark former Cumberland Cold Storage Building on Merrill’s Wharf — originally constructed in the 1800s — was restored to serve in part as the new headquarters for Pierce Atwood, the largest law firm in northern New England.

Maine Wharf is recognizable behind popular waterfront restaurants Flatbread and Ri Ra Irish Pub, which share a building at the mouth of the 68 Commercial St. driveway that serves as access to the wharf’s Building 1 and Building 2.

Maine Wharf’s Building 2 — home to four tenants, including seafood wholesaler Upstream Trucking and seafood processor Morrison’s Maine Course — would receive a “rooftop addition” as part of the project proposed by Tinsman.

The upper-floor expansions across the two buildings would add more than 16,000 square feet to the structures, city planner Bill Needelman wrote in a memo to Portland Planning Board members last week.

The city requires that at least 55 percent of the ground floors of pier buildings between the Maine State Pier and International Marine Terminal be set aside for marine uses. The 2010 rule represents a relaxation of previous language that required the entire ground floors be used for marine uses.

Bill Hopkins, an architect representing the developer, wrote in a letter to city planners that the project intends to combine the adjacent Buildings 1 and 2 for the purposes of complying with the city’s marine uses requirement. The buildings have a total of 20,900 square feet of ground floor space, and all of the nearly 12,400 square feet of first-floor space in Building 2 is occupied by marine use tenants.

That represents nearly 62 percent of the combined first-floor space in the Maine Wharf buildings, Hopkins wrote, leaving the door open for the developer to rent out the 8,500-plus square feet of Building 1 without restriction.

Nonetheless, the developer is advertising the Building 1 space in the publication Working Waterfront and on the website CraigsList in hopes of attracting marine use tenants to the overhauled space, Hopkins said.

Maine Wharf tenants, including seven vessels that dock along the wharf, generate more than $203,000 in annual revenue for the property, according to documentation provided to the planning board.

Hopkins presented the developer’s plans for the site to the planning board at its Tuesday night meeting.

In that setting, concerns were raised about the heightening of the buildings with extra second- and third-floor space, as well as narrow travel lanes near the buildings, which will need to be shared by vehicles and pedestrians.

Amanda Roberts, who said she lives on the Portland Pier southwest of the wharf, told the board her “neighbors and I are very concerned about the project.”

“We’re losing valuable views out over the deep water and the oceans,” she said.

Planning board member Jack Soley said he worried about pedestrian safety on the wharf “if there is a high-volume use, such as a restaurant.”

None of the concerns prevented the project’s ultimate approval by the board however.

“I’m happy to see something happening down there,” said Chairwoman Carol Morrissette.

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