It could cost between $112,000 and $224,000 to fully revitalize and add more slips to the city-owned Portland Street Pier, but on Monday the South Portland City Council unanimously agreed that the potential gains from such a project could be well worth the investment.
District 1 City Councilor Claude Morgan brought the proposal forward because he believes South Portland’s waterfront is ripe for change and could “thrive and become an economic boon to the city.”
He said this is particularly true because of the rapid growth of the state’s aquaculture industry, which needs access to the water, as well as a place to offload its product for distribution to markets in other states and countries.
Prior to Monday’s council workshop on the Portland Street Pier, Morgan also told the Current that he sees providing easy water access, especially for those in the aquaculture industry, to be a force multiplier.
“I think we could see ancillary business spinning off, such as smokehouses for oysters or mussels or distribution facilities. We could centralize this industry in South Portland to great effect,” he said. “We have the capacity and we can build out the infrastructure. I believe this is very doable.”
He said the Portland Street Pier already brings in money to the city with annual boating slip rentals, and building more slips could bring in even more.
“I think this is the perfect place” to invest, Morgan said.
He added, “There are so many possibilities. South Portland is really ideally located. This is really an opportunity to roll out the welcome mat (to aquaculture). I think it’s important to seize the moment and jump in now. This is really a rare opportunity to capture a growing market and have that market depend on South Portland.”
Following Monday’s workshop, Mayor Tom Blake told the Current that “we all feel the pier is underutilized.”
On the other hand, he said, there’s a need for “a lot of exploratory information gathering” before any final decisions are made. To that end, Blake said the council has instructed city staff and the Economic Development Committee “to get the initial legwork done” and report back in the early fall.
The Portland Street Pier is located between Portland Pipe Line property in Ferry Village and the Sunset Marina and Saltwater Grille restaurant. Historically, the pier also served as the location for at least one of the ferry services that used to run across Portland Harbor from South Portland to Portland.
South Portland’s newly adopted economic development plan calls for the city to further develop its waterfront amenities and to look at regional growth industries, such as aquaculture, as an opportunity for economic growth, according to a memo provided to the council Monday by City Manager Jim Gailey.
The Portland Street Pier offers 15 boating slips for rent from mid-April to early November at a cost of $1,250, according to Kevin Adams, South Portland’s director of Parks, Recreation and the Waterfront. In a memo to the council, Adams said the slips are generally rented to “small, commercial fishing vessels” that typically belong to lobstermen.
This season, Adams said, the city is leasing out 12 of the 15 slips. In addition to the boat slips, the pier is also home to a single-story, wood-frame building, which Morgan said would be ideal for use as cold storage.
The city also docks its fire boat at the Portland Street Pier.
Issues affecting increased use of the pier, Adams said, include adequate parking, the lack of indoor storage for floats and other equipment, security, staffing and the fact that some dredging might be needed to provide enough depth for the innermost boat slips.
Morgan anticipates that in addition to requiring a number of improvements before the pier could be expanded, there would also be a need for a number of permits, particularly from the state’s departments of Environmental Protection and Marine Resources.
During its workshop Monday, the council also heard a presentation from Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, which represents 190 aquaculture farms across the state.
In his presentation, Belle told the council that there’s more and more demand for aquaculture, particularly because “it’s very efficient to grow food in the ocean.”
He also told the council that the rapid growth of aquaculture is a great opportunity for Maine, which he said has “amazing water quality” and is within “24 hours of delivering produce to more than 150 million consumers.”
Belle did not touch on whether making an investment in the Portland Street Pier would bring new business and industry to South Portland, but did say the aquaculture industry in Maine has an annual economic impact of between a $160 million and $200 million and that it provides hundreds of direct jobs.
The Portland Street Pier in South Portland is ripe for redevelopment, according to City Councilor Claude Morgan, who represents several waterfront neighborhoods.
Twelve of the 15 slips at the city-owned Portland Street Pier are being rented out by local commercial fishermen, according to city records.
The Portland Street Pier as viewed from the adjacent Sunset Marina.
While currently hemmed in by large oil storage tanks owned by Portland Pipe Line, City Councilor Claude Morgan believes it would be “very doable” to redevelop the Portland Street Pier, while saying it’s time South Portland “looks beyond the tanks.”