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May 28, 2019

Inside West Bayside, where development is evolving as interest grows

Photo / Maureen Milliken 44 Hanover St. is being developed by Tom Watson, owner of Port Property Management, one of two properties on Hanover Street he's developing. 65 Hanover, which is now The Public Works, a coworking and innovation space, is in the background.

PORTLAND — A group of nearly 100 jammed into a bright and welcoming room last week at The Public Works on Alder Street for a forum, "The Rebirth of Bayside," a discussion of the evolution of the industrial neighborhood. When Rob Barrett, developer of the building that was once the city's paint and sign shop, showed a slide of what the room looked like a year ago, there were laughs, but also oohs and ahhs.

The fact that the transformation from a much-used dirty and aged space to the clean bright lines of the coworking and innovation space happened so quickly, is part of the West Bayside story. Barrett's project is one of six by five developers who are quickly turning a hardscrabble underdeveloped and largely industrial section of the city into a hip living, working and entertaining area.

Rather than one large developer sweeping up multiple acres, tearing down buildings and putting up high-rises, the neighborhood is developing organically through the small projects, four of which are making use of the buildings already there.

The neighborhood is roughly defined by Marginal Way, Cumberland Avenue, Forest Avenue and the Franklin Arterial.

The projects on the four acres of city land that were sold in 2017 and 2018 to the developers are part of the neighborhood's evolution, Jeff Levine, Portland's director of economic development and urban planning, told Mainebiz this week.

"There's always been a core of residents and businesses in West Bayside," said Levine, who was also a member of the May 22 panel. "What's happened in the last 10 years is building on that base with a new mix of uses and attractions, building on that base and the historic structures in the area."

The city is also extending the trail system through the area, and other developers have invested in the neighborhood, including Leavitt & Sons Deli and other businesses on the nearby former Century Tire property redeveloped by Northland Development, and the renovation of Bayside Bowl on Alder Street.

Nate Stevens, a partner/broker with The Boulos Co., and also a member of the panel, told those gathered, though, that the city's move to sell its former Public Works Dept. property to a number of developers rather than one was a catalyst for change. The department has moved to 250 Canco Road.

The rebirth of West Bayside took hold two years ago when the city took proposals for the six parcels on four acres on Kennebec, Parris, Portland and Hanover streets, he said.

A decade ago, West Bayside was "a dirty industrial area," said Stevens, who representing the city in the Public Works Dept. sales. While neighboring East Bayside, on the other side of Franklin, was developing and businesses found low lease rates that were still near downtown, West Bayside, which was more industrial, didn't develop as quickly.

"It was difficult to get tenants there," he said.

That reputation has lingered, said Ali Malone, a broker with Portside Real Estate Group, which sponsored the panel to highlight the neighborhood's changes.

When she and Andrew Roy started marketing the new Parris Terraces, on a former city site developed by Jack Soley, the biggest hurdle was the neighborhood. People would ask more about the neighborhood than the project, she said, and "trying to explain the context" was "a real challenge."

"We were showing renderings of other people's projects as much as our own," she said.

Courtesy / City of Portland
A map of former Portland Public Works Department property that's been sold to developers includes 1) 55 Portland St., 2) 44 Hanover St., 3) 60 Parris St., 4) 82 Hanover St. 5) 65 Hanover St. and 6) 178 Kennebec St. Marginal Way is at the left and the Forest Avenue post office is at the bottom right corner of the photo.

Small developers, diverse uses

Stevens said while there will be a diversity of uses, the owners are local small-business people, and "the kind of people who can get things done."

One of the requirements when the city requested proposals was that the property be developed in a certain time frame. City Councilors, when developers for the first four parcels were approved in October 2017, said the city had been burned by developers who have let the property languish with no sign of the promised development.

Developers of the former city property are Soley; Barrett, who opened The Public Works at 53 Alder St. (formerly 65 Hanover St.) last fall; Tom Watson, who is developing 82 and 44 Hanover, for mixed use; The Szanton Co. and Ross Furman, who are building a mixed commercial and affordable housing project at 178 Kennebec St.; Ford Reiche, who bought 55 Portland St., which was the Public Works Department offices.

Levine told those gathered for the panel that projections for the neighborhood's future changed over the past two decades, from industrial use, to retail to a social services center. The recession 10 years ago slowed down big development plans that would have rebuilt the neighborhood, including a proposed large commercial project.

When the recession began to fade, the view was different.

"What happened since then is we're rediscovering some of these great old industrial buildings," he said. "One of the most energy-efficient things you can do is not tear [buildings like these down]."

He said the low profiles of the buildings gives the neighborhood a more accessible feeling and vibe.

The city's decision to offer the parcels separately, but at the same time, is allowing the area to develop in a creative, organic way, those on the panel agreed.

Smaller developers each having a piece, "allowed them to do it in their own way," Levine said.

Szanton Co.
Photo / Tim Greenway
Nathan Szanton, president of Szanton Co., and Amy Cullen, the firm’s development officer, at the site where the company will be develop affordable housing in Bayside in Portland.

178 Kennebec St.

When the city first put the parcels out for bid, many in the neighborhood, as well as the city at large, said they were concerned about the lack of affordable housing in the Portland area.

One of two new builds on the Public Works property, the four-story Furman Block at 178 Kennebec St., is one of two projects aimed at residential needs.The building will have 51 housing units, along with the ground floor commercial space; 40 units will be income-restricted and 11 market rate. All are for tenants 55 years old and older.

The project is expected to break ground in late June or early July, Nathan Szanton of The Szanton Co. told Mainebiz on Tuesday.

Furman, Szanton's partner on the project, is a real estate entrepreneur who was one of the early pioneers of redevelopment in Bayside, Szanton noted. "Ross will own the ground floor level of our building, and will lease it to artists as studio and gallery space," he said.

The partners paid $250,000 for the 0.22-acre vacant property, which is adjacent to other property Furman owns. Archetype Architects and Herbert Construction are the contractors on the job.

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Parris Terrace, 60 Parris St., has 23 condominiums, most of it "workforce housing." It's been developed by John Soley and marketed by Portside Real Estate Group.

60 Parris St.

The other project dedicated to residential space is also the other new build in the Public Works property.

“Accessibly priced homes are a segment of the condominium market that’s been left behind the past couple of years,” Malone, of Portside, said in a news release earlier this year. She said the project aims to help fill that void in the market.

Malone at last week's panel said the condos, marketed as accessible workforce housing, are targeted for those who want to live and and work in Portland.

Soley bought the 0.23-acre parcel for $175,000. The building opened in May, and 18 of the 23 condominiums have been sold. 

Marketed by Malone and Andrew Roy of Portside, which hosted the May 22 forum, the condos are marketed as accessible workforce housing.

The one-bedroom condos, designed by Kaplan Thompson Architects, of Portland, are mostly between 410 square feet and 586 square feet, priced at $229,500, as well as three 675-square-foot market-rate units with lofts, priced at $339,000.

All the condos have either a deck or Juliette balcony, and onsite parking. Malone said that buyers wanted a place to park their car and leave it, rather than driving around the peninsula.

There is also a guest suite, managed by the condo association.

65 Hanover St.

Barrett, who owns design and build firm Barrett Made, moved his offices from Union Wharf to The Public Works when renovations were completed in the fall, a year after he closed on it.

He paid $1 million for the 13,009-square-foot building. His renovations kept some of the original elements of the city sign and paint shop.

The space, which includes co-working, event space, and a makers space is for creative businesses, he told those at the forum.

"It's for creative professionals," he said, not just for those who were creating, but "creatives who to take their art to the next level."

Barrett told Mainebiz last year that the second phase of the project will be market-rate apartments — tentatively a six-story building on a 12,000-square-foot footprint, with 25 residential units and ground-floor retail. The building would be in what's now The Public Works' 14,000-square-foot parking lot.

55 Portland St.

Reiche bought the three-story, 18,447-square-foot building at 55 Portland St. for $1.4 million. The city agreed to the proposal in January 2018, but it was put off until the fall so the Public Works Dept. offices could move to the Canco Road location.

The building is on half an acre and was built in 1984.

Photo / Maureen Milliken
The owner of Ri Ra Irish pub in Portland plans to open a barbecue restaurant and bar in the former Portland Public Works Dept. building under renovation by Tom Watson, of Port Properties Management.

44 and 82 Hanover St.

Watson, owner of Port Property Management, and the third member of the panel, bought the 1.25-acre parcel and 43,000-square-foot former warehouse, known as The General Store, at 82 Hanover St. for $2.4 million in October 2017, and adjacent 44 Hanover St., a former city garage, early last year for $1.25 million. The second site has an 8,425-square-foot one-story building on about an acre.

Watson told the audience that when he found out his bid for the second site was accepted, his first thought was that he got two acres in the middle of the city — "We won!"

His next thought was, "Oh [expletive], what did I win?"

He said developers take on a lot of risk in projects like the West Bayside one. "This isn't 'built it and they will come,'" he said. He compared it to when he bought the Maine Wharf 20 years ago"It was right on the ocean, people will come," he said. But most of those who wanted to come wanted offices there. Watson saw it more as a place people would drink, and eat.

One day he stood on the wharf with the owner of of Flatbread Pizza and asked, "Do you see what I see?"

He did, Watson told the forum audience. Flatbread, in 1999, was his first tenant on the wharf, followed by Ri Ra.

He said that kind of vision, from both developers and businesses, is what it takes to develop a neighborhood like West Bayside.

He was originally planning maker space for 44 Hanover, but told Mainebiz in February, he hasn't settled on a use yet. He's already got tenants that include a spin cycle business and a country restaurant for 82 Hanover.

Now Ri Ra owner Ciaran Sheehan, who was his second tenant on the Maine Wharf, is partnering with Watson on a barbecue bar and restaurant in 5,600 square feet of the indoor space and 2,000 square feet of the outdoor space at 82 Hanover.

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