As the economy peaked several years ago I flew up to Portland Maine to meet with great local designer Mitchell Rasor (MRLD), and City Planning officials. We joined other international developers, and a fleet of consultants and advisors for design presentations and a blistering barrage of heated and hightly publicized Community Review and City Council meetings. Myself, Della Valle Bernheimer, and MRLD had designed one of two proposals before the City for development of the Maine State Pier, a dilapidated deep sea berth pier which protrudes far out into the Portland harbor from a crossroads between a gorgeous and vibrant little downtown and a now quieter but recently rezoned manufacturing district known as the Eastern Waterfront.
Our strategy was an opportunistic mash-up of old and new, small and monumental scales of programs and structure. We proposed developing the pier twice; once at grade for commerce and once again, on top, for the public. Our proposal was to refurbish the existing pier and structures as an intermodal transportation and commercial hub, over which is added a new occupiable roofscape which would be draped atop and span across the existing warehouses running continuosly along the entire length of the pier. This new elevated landscape slopes down where pier meets land to seamlessly become an at-grade park. This new second pier would be a combination of public green space, institutional pop-ups such as performance spaces, and enough photovoltaic panel area to allow the pier below to be net-zero.
However, our team was portrayed as outsiders, as I was from New York, and our developer a behemoth. The competing team’s developer was local, and the design team was a large consortium of local designers. The review and approval process was highly contentious, and big local news. City Council members were forced to recuse themselves, voted out of office, many with vested interests one way or another. Eventually the local team won city council approval by a single vote.
But, sadly the political wrestling didn’t end there; financing never materialized and the Pier project never happened. Then the economy changed the world. The new urban typology we were seeking five years ago exists now in cities such as New York, and projects such as The High Line. In a future economic cycle, with a new outlook on sustainable development and engineering, and connectivity, perhaps Portland will recycle its Pier.
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