Let’s move past the ferry terminal and cruise-ship berthing, and even parking (which in Ocean’s revised proposal is elegantly camouflaged, but is still entirely lacking from Olympia’s plan — see “Park It,” by Jeff Inglis, March 9).
The developer does need to make back its investments in pier repairs and overall project construction; collecting parking fees and rent from a few shops (like some places to get a bite to eat, or have a couple drinks after work, or grab a cup of coffee) will help with that.
We really need to look at ways to make the pier the People’s Pier. Some of what follows are hinted at in existing proposals, but where that’s true, the plan doesn’t go far enough, and the public use is merely ancillary to the pier’s development as a profit center. We need to make it our own, a place we Portlanders will visit year-round, and let the companies figure out how to make the money as a secondary goal. Here are some ideas, dreamt up by Phoenicians.
Create a watersports activity center, with kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats (think Sunfish, not the multi-masted schooner Bagheera) for the public to use, with lessons, guided excursions, and rentals. The closest either of the existing proposals come to this is Olympia Companies’ ramp down to the water, where people who already own boats can schlep their gear down Commercial Street and down a long sidewalk to get to the water. Better to have the stuff down at the end; maybe even rent slips and lockers to frequent users. People could commute by kayak from Peaks Island in the summer; office workers could go for a sail on their lunch hours. (Such a place could also rent bicycles for people to use to tour the downtown.)
Have a band shell, like the Hatch in Boston. Downtown Portland has been missing a mid-sized live-music venue since the State Theatre closed back in March 2006. Baystock is a fine example of how even the existing pier can be home to a concert. Making the area even friendlier for public use would be even better, and could draw additional concerts. Freeport draws thousands with LL Bean’s summer concerts; we get good numbers with the Alive at Five concert series in Monument Square. Get a bigger space, and more people would come. They wouldn’t even have to drive to Freeport.
A heart of culture
While we’re on that theme, make the pier the site (or the main location) of major city events and festivals, including repeating events like the Alive At Five concerts, farmer’s markets, indoor-outdoor art exhibits, and once-a-year events like the First Night New Year’s celebration and the Fourth of July fireworks. It could even be the new destination for the Peaks-to-Portland swim, and a perfect spot for viewing the MS Regatta Harborfest tugboat races and other events on the water.
Those ideas would get people using the area throughout the day and night; we should also get people using the area year-round. One easy way to do that is to install heated sidewalks. Other places have done that, to great success, including Klamath Falls, Oregon, which takes advantage of its heated sidewalks to host a downtown-wide street festival in the middle of February, and Holland, Michigan, which heats its sidewalks to draw art enthusiasts to the village’s galleries in all seasons.
Post your ideas for the Maine State Pier in the comments area for this article.