July 29, 2013
Two events this month show the tensions facing Portland's working waterfront.
The first was good news: the announcement that Shucks Maine Lobster was leasing 19,000 square feet of space at the Maine State Pier for lobster processing. The expanding business is expected to invest more than $1 million on renovations and equipment and bring nine full-time jobs and 60 part-time ones to the waterfront. Along with Ready Seafood, a lobster shipping company, which will also lease space on the pier, Portland will build on its role as a hub for the lobster fishery.
The second development was not so good. The owners of the old Cumberland Cold Storage building on Commercial Street, now the headquarters of the Pierce Atwood law firm, announced that they have not been able to find marine tenants to lease space that is reserved for them by zoning. The building's owners got permission from the Planning Board to rent the space to other kinds of businesses.
Coming so closely together, the two developments illustrate the tough choices the city will have to make if Portland is going to preserve its working waterfront. There is still demand for space near the water for seafood processing, as the Shucks deal shows. But there may not be enough to justify the zoning restrictions last revised in 2010. As this conversation moves forward, the city should not forget its commitment to a robust working waterfront. This is a vital part of Portland's heritage, and the jobs these businesses provide won't come back if they are forced out. Preservation may involve public investment that promotes infrastructure upgrades that rents alone can't support.