An urban vision rises in Bayside
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By TUX TURKEL, Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
The old-style streetlights and sidewalks look out of place, flanking a grassy, oval island in the middle of the new street. There's nothing there except vacant land and parking lots.
Five or so years from now, though, office buildings could rise along this section of Chestnut Street in Portland's Bayside neighborhood. The island would showcase a work of public art and serve as a new gateway to the downtown.
City planners have spent years tweaking their visions of redevelopment in Bayside. Earlier this winter, a critical part of this evolution moved off the drawing board and into the marketplace.
A commercial real estate broker has begun a national advertising campaign to sell lots within a 6.5-acre strip in the middle of the neighborhood. Developers from as far away as California and Texas are expressing interest in the city's vision of a dense mix of office, housing and retail space, bisected by public space and a tree-lined walking trail.
Obstacles remain. The New England Metal Recycling scrap yard needs to relocate before the city can build a 705-space parking garage, a key component for new office and retail construction. That's on track to happen by next year. But a second scrap yard, E. Perry Iron & Metal, is still negotiating with the city, which most recently offered $1 million in federal money for the yard to move.
Beyond scrap yard relocation, developers must embrace strict zoning standards meant to encourage a pedestrian-friendly, urban design.
"It's challenging, but it's not unwarranted and we'll get it done," said Tony McDonald, a partner at CB Richard Ellis/The Boulos Co.
Following a bid process, the city selected Boulos exclusively to market the property. McDonald and his colleague, Drew Sigfridson, have spent the past two months talking with business contacts and distributing information through the 250 offices in the CB Richard Ellis network.
Names are confidential, but they say they've heard from developers interested in large, master plan projects that would cover the entire parcel, as well as those with smaller ambitions. One business from the Portland area is contemplating a 60,000-square-foot office on one lot.
CITY OWNS FORMER RAIL YARD
The land is a former railroad yard that's now owned by the city's local development branch. It forms a skinny rectangle bordered roughly by Elm, Somerset and Pearl streets and bisected by Chestnut Street. The site is in a fast-growing area surrounded by projects that have been recently completed or are in process, including Whole Foods and the Pearl Place apartment complex.
Nearly half the land is set aside for parking, public space and a trail system that will eventually link the city's East End with Deering Oaks park and Back Cove.
Five parcels in a cleared area along Somerset Street are for sale now. The asking price for a quarter-acre lot is $292,600; combined lots totaling 1.3 acres are going for $1.36 million.
The buyer of these properties must have near-term development plans that meet the city's timetable, Sigfridson said. The land isn't being marketed as an investment; a buyer can't sit on it for years.
"We won't sell to just anybody," he said. "It has to be a qualified developer who meets the criteria we're looking for."
For instance: The city wants a floor area ratio of four, meaning that a 20,000-square-foot lot should accommodate an 80,000-square-foot building. That assures the high-density, urban design the city is trying to create.
This desire is expressed in a four-color concept illustration prepared by the city to show how the Bayside strip might evolve. The plan envisions a handful of small office buildings, ranging from 60,000 to 120,000 square feet and up to eight stories high. Retail space would occupy the ground floors. The 6.5-acre area could hold up to 375,000 square feet of office-retail development.
The city's vision -- and how developers respond -- is of great interest to other commercial brokers who own land in the Bayside area.
Cardente Real Estate is trying to lease 1.3 acres at the corner of Somerset Street and Franklin Arterial. It's looking for a tenant interested in an office-retail project up to 100,000 square feet.
NO SURFACE PARKING ALLOWED
The company has heard from possible medical office and retail tenants who like the property's high-visibility location, according to Matthew Cardente, the firm's owner. But these businesses want surface parking for customers, and that's not allowed. The new Whole Foods supermarket across the street has surface parking, he noted, but that was approved prior to new zoning requirements in the area.
Cardente said he's supportive of dense development in Bayside, but wonders if the city is being too restrictive in its vision for how the neighborhood should look.
McDonald and Sigfridson are aware of these concerns. They point out, too, that the city's controversial ordinance that restricts large chains and formula businesses from some downtown locations also covers the Bayside strip. City councilors are talking about repealing or modifying the ordinance, but McDonald said he isn't bothering to contact popular chain retailers, such as bookstores or coffee shops, that might otherwise be potential ground-floor tenants.
His focus now is to find a developer to build the first new building, which would trigger construction of the city's parking garage. That won't happen until 2008 at the earliest, when New England Metal Recycling is gone.
City officials have a different view of the strict zoning standards.
"Interested parties will already know what the city and the community want to see," said Jack Lufkin, Portland's economic development director. "It takes the guesswork out of it."
Lufkin said future adjustments are always possible, but he expects development to closely follow the current vision. He's well aware that the single parking garage the city has committed to build won't handle all the cars associated with 375,000 square feet of office development. But a new bus stop, neighborhood housing and the emphasis on pedestrian traffic, he said, is meant to reduce the demand for parking spaces.
A larger challenge, he said, is whether the pace of business growth is strong enough to absorb an estimated 75,000 square feet or so of new office space a year in Bayside. The city is counting on those market projections to fill the strip over the next five years or so.
That's part of the reason the city has taken care in designing the new, vacant stretch of Chestnut Street. When developers visit the area, it helps them get a sense of how their projects will fit into the future of Bayside.
"You can understand that it's going to be a very different place tomorrow than it is today," Lufkin said.
Staff writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:
economics of Portland, ME
Feb 7, 2007 11:27 AM
those thigns are not half as ugly as vacant lots and junk yards. And, being from ass, I will draw upon boston as an example--boston builds more on speculation than portland does (as is evidenced by the higher office vacancy rates there) so if boston can pull it off, why cant somewhere else? Build it and they will come. there is a "spirit" that needs to be cultivated in portland, and developing this part of the city will achieve that. it si a spirit of forward thinking-ness, progressiveness, and success. success breeds success. build build and build some more. that is, after all, how we became a city. now all we here is thats too large or we cant become boston or that will cast a shadow on my left foot and i dont like being cold, or bla bla bla it is all old and tired excuses used by people who do not want portland to thrive as a city and would rather see it boom as a town. not going to happen. we will take a step up to the next level--question is...now or later?
Matt Bowie of Holliston, MA
Feb 6, 2007 5:30 PM
Beautifying the city is nice, but form needs to follow function. Your logic of "I understand the concern about too much office space. However, there will always be ups and downs, better to get them built while we have the chance." Is the exact reason why NOT to build. You don't build buildings based on hopes of business. You do it with the knowledge that it will bring in added revenue and business.
Problem is, Portland's economy is small and fragile. Adding this kind of office space could just be robbing Peter to pay Paul and force a lot of properties to lose money. Question is, which area gets hit worse? Abandoned buildings and vacancy signs can be pretty ugly.
Patrick Venne of Portland, ME
Feb 6, 2007 5:28 PM
christine, my apologies, it is hard to tell sarcasm over the internet
Michael kri of portland, ME
Feb 6, 2007 5:10 PM
"Nice as it is to see Bayside getting developed, this is one area that strikes me as suitable for chains, if only for the simple reason that it'll be underwater in a hundred years thanks to climate change. So go ahead and build temporary businesses in an area with no future."
Most of Bayside was claimed from the Water over 100 years ago. That is why it is so flat. I beleive Oxford St was the shoreline. The tital Marshes were infilled. It was not like they filled in open ocaean.