Here is the Belfast commercial waterfront between Front Street and the harbor. It starts at the big Route One bridge and ends at the Belfast Boathouse.
1. Penobscot McCrum
2. Front Street Shipyard
3. City of Belfast (Maskers)
4. Assorted small owners including Purple Baboon, 3 Tides, the tug boats, the Weathervane, and a few others.
5. Heritage Park
6. Consumers Fuel property
7. French and Webb property
8. Steamboat Landing park and boathouse
And that is it. We have been a city and waterfront dominated by large companies: shoes, windows, sardines, railway, chickens, and potatoes. Through good fortune we have reclaimed much of that property: Heritage Park (city purchase) and Steamboat Landing (a gift from Charles Cawley and MBNA) and the BMLRR rail yard. The spaces that Penobscot McCrum and the former Stinson now “Front Street Shipyard” occupy are the majority of the commercial Belfast waterfront.
On the waterfront today are three models for its future development.
1. One (1) is the minimal clutch of small, successful and character-rich businesses near the City Landing – 3 Tides, the Front Street Pub, the Weathervane, Purple Baboon and a few offices and apartments, the former Belfast Boatyard, the towboats, etc. This is much like the rest of the greater Belfast downtown we recognize.
2. The second (2) is ever larger commercial industrial spaces as represented by Penobscot-McCrum, Front Street Shipyard, French and Webb and Consumers Fuel. There is nothing like this development potential currently in the rest of the downtown.
3. City parks and public spaces
The city council favors the first approach (1) because it’s in keeping with the rest of Belfast that people admire most and offers a countervailing safeguard against the large, closed, cookie-cutter developments that have been proposed earlier and have ruined waterfronts in so many communities.
We should remember the Westport Capital Partners condo plan (prior to Front Street Shipyard) that would have made Stinson’s an enclave of $850,000 seasonal homes. Some of us can even recall the city council’s welcoming proposals for development proposals in what is now waterfront Heritage Park to condo developers in 1985. The developers had big plans, including bell towers and marinas, and Belfast voters said: “enough”, and elected a radically new council the next year in protest. The new council quickly preserved the land as Heritage Park.
The Masker’s waterfront has mostly lain nearly fallow for years. The council has until recently declined to plan for the City waterfront land’s future on the sensible grounds that we could not predict the future and the belief it’s better to be reactive and fill in the last spaces.
But the future is now upon us and pressuring us, Front Street Shipyard is looking to expand again, and it is time for the city to put our own house in order and to envision a future that we will want to live in and leave for generations.
Let’s look at what’s here now, starting at the north.
1. The McCrum property is a neighbor to our successful Footbridge and the Passy Rail Trail and will be used for new purposes at some point.
2. The railroad land, which the council paid $360,000 for in the 1980s because it didn’t want the waterfront to be part of a bankruptcy filing by the B & ML, has seen the major improvements by Front Street Shipyard and the minor and reconfigurable development of a $250,000 parking lot and the Thompson Wharf pier. Most of the city’s land is open and unused. We sold a portion of our land near the parking lot to enable Front Street Shipyard to do their yard. The parking lot is also now planned to be sold to Front Street Shipyard.
3. 3 Tides, the Weathervane, the Front Street Pub, The Purple Baboon, etc., are among the biggest present-day draws to the waterfront, none of these owners or anyone like them will be part of the new Belfast waterfront development because the cost will be prohibitive. If you like small business and property owners like 3 Tide’s Dave and Sarah or Front Street Pubs Tina and Katherine we need to find a way to make more space for people like them.
4. The City Landing and Heritage Park are public space and unavailable for development.
5. Consumers Fuel is waiting to be developed, as is the French and Webb building.
6. The Common, the Boathouse and Steamboat Landing parks are owned by the city and protect the south end of the waterfront.
And that’s it.
That’s all we have for the entire develop-able commercial waterfront for the entire City of Belfast.
• Belfast’s waterfront, unlike most small city harbors is dominated by large users. It was taken over in years past and it is still the same. Had MBNA and Charles Cawley not gifted Steamboat Landing and Belfast Commons it would be another vast single ownership.
We have one last chance to develop some more small scale property ownership on the Belfast waterfront. If we see the City of Belfast non-park waterfront land (the Maskers) developed on a scale that fits Belfast we will change our city enormously . To accomplish that, we need a detailed master plan that recognizes and includes these essential elements for the Belfast Maskers/ City of Belfast property:
* Multiple small parcels privately owned: We can discuss what small means but envision 20 x 30 foot lots on 50% of the property with the rest used for parking, lanes, public space, walkways, service access, etc. (if we put 40 of these lots in it would require ½ acre of the 4 acres we own)
* Multiple small uses required, including all sorts of small business, boat building, marine services, inns, retail, residences, offices, entertainment, etc. as possibilities
* A time frame that will include the start of construction of 50 percent of projects by 20xx built into sales agreements.
• What is not envisioned is one corporate entity owning and developing the Maskers property as if it were a mall or a condominium developer.
Including the Masker’s building, the rail buildings, and the parking lot we have four acres , a very small number of acres of City land. If we sold only 40 lots at 50,000.00 (a seemingly fair and low price) the sale would bring in 2 million dollars in sales and once built out could add 10-20 million in valuation. More importantly it would also add the social and business diversity equal to all of Main Street from Rollie’s to the Post Office.
Think of Alexias, the Green Store, Bay Wrap, Colburn Shoe, the Game Loft, Maine Farmland Trust, Darby’s, Del Vino’s, Rollie’s: they are all about 20’ wide x 40’ deep. Think of all the complexity, vitality, life and energy those few 3 story buildings bring to our city.
The idea is revolutionary: to re-colonize the waterfront with independence, safeguarding public access while pursuing private development of small properties by small property owners and business owners; to keep the access to open space that makes our waterfront so distinctive while maximizing business opportunities on private land; and to create a dynamic and exciting template for the future.
The Belfast waterfront has always been occupied, exploited, dominated, and controlled by large industries for their own interests. I hope you’ll join and support the council in considering how we can truly change the city for the better.
Stay tuned. / Thanks/ Mike Hurley