May 21, 2019
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Developers agree to shrink major downtown Portland project to end legal challenge

City of Portland | BDN
City of Portland | BDN
This image depicts the latest version of the Midtown project proposed for Portland's Bayside neighborhood.

PORTLAND, Maine — Developers behind a four-tower project in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood have agreed to scale back the proposed complex in a move city officials say is part of a compromise to end a lawsuit that has stalled construction for months.

“It’s our understanding that a settlement of the lawsuit has been reached, and now the project is proceeding with a revised design,” said Gregory Mitchell, Portland’s director of economic development. “It still includes housing, market rate units and retail space and parking structure that will support not only this project but more development in the area. Overall, we’re very pleased that the project is proceeding.”

The first phase of the ambitious Midtown project gained city approval in January after months of hearings, but a group of opponents that said the development was too massive in scale for Portland challenged the approval in court.

The Florida-based Federated Cos., the development firm behind the project, has come back with new, downsized plans for the site.

“We feel that this iteration is a compromise that works both for us and for the plaintiffs, and [it] seems to be something that the city has been receptive to,” said Jonathan Cox of The Federated Cos. “We’re hoping it will continue to be well received as we move through this process, and we’ll be able to get this started. We really want to see something built there. It’s the best thing for us, and it’s the best thing for the city.”

The previously approved version of the project was to be built over multiple phases but ultimately include four 165-foot-tall towers and two parking garages — the first one with 700 spaces and a second one with 400.

The previous plans included between 650-850 market rate residential units and 100,000 square feet of retail space on the bottom floor.

The new version, submitted to the city on Tuesday, features four buildings between 72 feet and 92 feet in height, just more than 87,000 square feet of street-level retail space and only one parking garage with 800 spaces.

If permitted, the development would occupy a space between Somerset, Chestnut, Pearl and Elm streets.

“With the redesign of the project, the footprint for all the development pretty much stays the same, the concept of street-level commercial space is about the same,” said Mitchell.

Instead of a total project cost of between $100 million and $150 million, Mitchell said, the revised proposal would be worth an estimated $85 million.

The largely undeveloped city-owned area was formerly industrial scrapyards, and the Midtown project was considered by supporters to be a landmark development in the growth of Portland, which in recent years has experienced a building boom and has been widely lauded by travel and culture publications as an emerging city on the national scene.

“There was, of course, a lot of support for the previous project and still remains a lot of support for the previous project, but at this point, the city really just needs to see something happen,” Cox said. “This is a critical site and a critical project in a neighborhood where they’d been working for change since long before we showed up. I think there’s genuine interest in getting something built there.”

Members of the group Keep Portland Livable, which was founded as opposition to the Midtown project, released a statement on Tuesday evening saying they plan to step back from their legal challenge because of the revised plans.

“While not perfect, the new design represents a solid victory for the people of Portland and the members of our group who raised their voices in support of a better plan and a better city and now will continue to be part of the city’s planning process,” said Keep Portland Livable co-founder Peter Munro in a statement.

“This agreement to work toward a settlement and redesign of the project demonstrates that we are not anti-development,” added Tim Paradis, the other co-founder of the group. “The future of Portland is not simply about increasing our population and property tax base. It’s vital that we grow Portland in line with our qualities as a ‘top 10’ best small city. We need to sustain downtown’s unique walkability and promote genuine mixed use development that incentivizes generators of good jobs to invest here.”

Cox said he hopes to get new city approvals for the updated project proposal by Jan. 15 and begin construction soon thereafter.

 



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