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Old 09-13-2012, 01:07 PM   #1
Patrick
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What drives a renaissance city?

The point of this post is twofold, one immediate and one more broad and general.

A. I wanted to showcase what's been going on in the little city of Portland, ME to the broader audience, and B. I want to know what makes a renaissance city? Why have Providence and Portland and other places (Greenville, SC) rebounded when other cities, even in the same area, have not? Each case is different, but there should be some general attributes or policies that explain the difference. It can't all be location because, after all, even the places which haven't rebounded (or haven't as much or as quickly) still have populations that want to. What is it, then?

A. Portland, ME has experienced an unprecedented level of development, especially for a sluggish economy.

At present, there is a 1 million square foot mixed use transit oriented development including hotel, office, and a new arena for the Celtics' minor league Portland affiliate (Red Claws) next to the Portland-Boston Amtrak stop.

There are also three major multi-story mixed use condo buildings approved and ready to start construction. And another proposed.

There is a seven story hotel proposed for the tourist area.

Then, most of note, there is the largest proposal Portland has ever seen to my knowledge, a seven tower high rise residential tower proposal with nearly 700 units proposed and inclusive of Portland's new tallest building, proposed by Boston based Federated Companies and dubbed Maritime Landing seen here:



B. Why is this happening in Portland or any other city, while others have less movement?
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Old 09-13-2012, 02:39 PM   #2
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

Looking at that.... gives me the shivers. Would this development rendered actually be part of any renaissance or just a reactive rubber-band snap akin to a sugar high. All that space wasted for parking. And why? I'm admit I'm not too familiar with Portland but where is the community?
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Old 09-13-2012, 02:45 PM   #3
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

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Looking at that.... gives me the shivers. Would this development rendered actually be part of any renaissance or just a reactive rubber-band snap akin to a sugar high. All that space wasted for parking. And why? I'm admit I'm not too familiar with Portland but where is the community?
You wouldn't be the first to react that way. The point in showing it is to show the demand. ten years ago the city would be "thriving" if a 5 story office building was built, and a major residential apartment building hadn't been built in ten years or so. And now this? This looks like a Boston-sized proposal, but Portland is as big as Framingham and not in a major metro area.

I think the design needs to and will change, but the parking is there to stay. It is part of a fed grant that the City has wanted in this area for years. Many people realize it's probably not necessary, but it's probably going to be there. The good news is that it's all wrapped in retail as proposed, and fronts on a new walking trail already constructed which ties together with a broader park and trail network. In front of this rendering is a new major office building of ten stories constructed in 2008. If you stood on its roof this is the angle you'd see. The traditional downtown is behind it by two blocks. This is a former industrial neighborhood right in the middle of downtown, surrounded by water on nearly all sides.
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Old 09-13-2012, 04:24 PM   #4
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

Are those parking lots part of the proposed development or are they existing?
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Old 09-13-2012, 06:10 PM   #5
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

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Are those parking lots part of the proposed development or are they existing?
I was confused at first too, but I believe the parking Patrick is referring to are the garages, whereas we are all flipping out at the existing parking lots. Here is the site:
http://goo.gl/maps/6qqIQ

Here is the office building, and some new looking construction along the parking lots:
http://goo.gl/maps/If3BP

Patrick, I'm guessing the long term plan is for those parking lots to be redeveloped? Perhaps with a street or two laid across them?

As for the OP, I believe that Portland is simply the perfect storm. It's isolated enough that it is the only real city for a distance, but close enough to Boston to take advantage of some of its resources. It's also on I95 and the sudo-northeast corridor in the form of the Downeaster. Geographically you have the mountains and the ocean which are a draw for many people. Then you have a city whos inhabitants genuinely care about making it a better place. The existing housing stock is also historic, plentiful, and aesthetically pleasant. See the Malden vs Medford debate on the importance of a re-emerging city having good bones.

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe Portland was ever a mill city, which were the hardest hit when manufacturing ceased in the 50s. That would make the transfer to a service based economy easier. I see myself moving to Portland within the next decade, for exactly these reasons.

Providence shares many similar features (it also helps Rhode Island is so damn tiny). For this cities that don't make it, location is usually the biggest killer. Look at the cities along the Merrimack or in Connecticut. They are all competing with each other for a tiny slice of the economic pie, and none have anything substantial to offer. They also don't have a robust transportation network nor prominence within their area, which Portland and Providence have much of. If the cosmopolitan trend of returning to the cities continues they too will likely see a resurgence, but they will never be destinations without something unique to offer.
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Old 09-13-2012, 06:40 PM   #6
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

Portland is the terminus of a historically important Canadian oil pipeline... has that conferred an advantage?
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Old 09-13-2012, 08:34 PM   #7
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

All the buildings in the back along with the glass one to the right are part of Federated Companies Maritime Landing project here. The buildings to the front and gigantic lots were built before the real Bayside/Marginal way plans were put into place. That was an completely and totally blighted area a decade ago. I mean there was nothing but a few random businesses and scrapyards. It was the gateway to the city and had great access so the city really put a lot of work in over the last five to ten years in getting together a strategy and what they wanted down there.

There is zero housing in that area now but over the last few years a whole foods, trader joe's, walgreens, office medical tower, urban bowling alley and a variety of other businesses have popped up. The housing bordering it is all low income housing and soup kitchens/shelters. This gigantic project will finally bring non low income housing to that area and hopefully and finally connect that area with the thriving Congress st and old port areas.

Like Patrick said, it is crazy the amount of projects planned and ready to break ground at this moment. There is no way any city even double the size ( Portland only has 64k) has seen the amount of development ready to go all once as here.

I think what helps is we are heavily tourist driven and it seems like we are on every top ten list that comes out these days, especially restaurants. That's why we can keep building new hotels when no other cities this size would dare to now. It's a destination city and now we gotta find a way to get people to not just visit, but stay.
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Old 09-14-2012, 09:27 AM   #8
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

Quote:
Look at the cities along the Merrimack or in Connecticut. They are all competing with each other for a tiny slice of the economic pie, and none have anything substantial to offer.
I wouldn't really characterize Nashua or Lowell or Newburyport that way.
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Old 09-14-2012, 11:23 AM   #9
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

To clear up the confusion, all of the high rises shown are proposed. The rest is existing layout. You can see why this area, which is in the middle of downtown, was eyed for redevelopment. I don't know of any plans to reconnect the streets across those lots, but I know in similar nearby lots the streets were reconnected a few years ago, and there are plans to reconnect the streets going east-west (left-right in the pic).
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Old 09-14-2012, 11:53 AM   #10
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

Why can't a parking garage (or two) replace all of those surface lots?
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Old 09-14-2012, 12:06 PM   #11
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

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Why can't a parking garage (or two) replace all of those surface lots?
That's the idea. In the rendering above, you'll note between the two left-most towers is a 700 car garage proposal. Then the four towers in the middle all grow out of a parking plinth as well (300 car garage). These garages will be wrapped in retail and front on a public walking trail connecting three city parks. I think this will address the parking issue long-term, but in the short term the private property interests and rights of the surface parking lot areas will dictate. Why park in a garage and walk to Trader Joes when you can park right in front of it? Eventually the answer will be "because the owner developed the lot" but until then the economy being as it is things are likely to remain the same there. But if you could really understand where this is, you'd see that those lots are being enclosed by major urban projects. Not shown here is a ten story medical office building just beneath where the pic cuts off, as well as a major student housing strucutre, that's the lower border, and the high rises above will be the upper border, to what may someday become a more intensely developed neighborhood. The traditional downtown is two blocks up in the rendering (separated by tenements and old homes).

here's the site in more detail:

here's the the evolution of the project from earlier renderings:

And now (taller buildings, but hopefully the design will get better)
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Old 09-14-2012, 01:12 PM   #12
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

I knew that render/angle was familiar. I don't understand why people are freaking out about surface lots that the developer has no control over.
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Old 09-14-2012, 03:28 PM   #13
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

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I knew that render/angle was familiar. I don't understand why people are freaking out about surface lots that the developer has no control over.
Good point, I think some people thought the entire render was of a proposed development site. Without being from the area I guess there would be no way to know that the tall buildings alone represent the proposal and everything else is existing. I like the height, but would really like to see some other interest here, too, for a complete urban neighborhood (of any vertical height above 3 stories).
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Old 09-14-2012, 03:51 PM   #14
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

The earlier massing is certainly much more engaging. It's great to see height in the new render, but the massing is rather bland.

Hopefully they look back to what made their original proposal great and work those elements into the current design. For example, the way the original was massed allows for amazing terrace and roof deck opportunities.
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Old 09-14-2012, 03:56 PM   #15
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Re: What drives a renaissance city?

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I knew that render/angle was familiar. I don't understand why people are freaking out about surface lots that the developer has no control over.
I was the original questioner. Like I said, not too familiar with Portland and thought the parking lots were part of the proposal. All cleared up now. (Even though surface lots still make me cringe.)
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