India Street Forum on Its Future Well Attended

Bill Needleman, City Senior Planner, Conducts Walking Tour of India Street Neighborhood.

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,316)

There was something for everyone at today’s forum on the future of the India Steet neighborhood – the first neighborhood in the City of Portland – and one that does not have a comprehensive plan to guide the city for long term planning. This process may help to change that.  There was a walking tour, two afternoon lectures and a digital opportunity to express preferences for the neighborhood.  About 60 people from the area attended a five hour forum held at the Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress Street. It was hosted by Sustain Southern Maine and the India Street Neighborhood Assocation.  Micucci’s donated great pizza for the forum.

“I stood here  five years ago – when lots of development was planned.  It was a neighborhood at the point of change with lots of development planned.  But it didn’t happen then. It is happening now. We need to plan for the changes.  It’s an opportunity for the neighborhood to give us its input,” said Bill Needleman, Senior Planner for the City of Portland. Needleman was standing on the property of the former Jordan’s Meat Co. which was recently replaced by a Hampton Inn.  The second parcel of land therein was sold to a holding company by Opechee Construction.  The constructions permits remain valid, Needleman said.   This followed a 45 minute walking tour of the neighborhood he gave about 35 people attending the forum.

An anonymous source close to the situation said he believes that S. Donald Sussman, billionaire hedge fund owner, who once said he would develop his property has backed out entirely from the propopsed development in the India Street neighborhood.   The India Street Neighborhood Association (“ISNA”) was created out of concern for the deterioration occuring in and around the Sussman property.  Property owners in the area  organized the Association to confront these issues in the neighborhood.  The property is expected to be up for sale soon if it is not already. Sussman, owns the majority share of the “Portland Press Herald’ and is respected for  his philanthropic work in the Maine Democratic party and elsewhere.

“A community that invests in diversity will be around for a long time.  Just as brains are stimluated by new material, so are communities,” said architect Paul Stevens during an early afternoon presentation, on behalf of the Portland Society of Architecture.  “Contemporary architecture can be good or bad – it’s just what is happening now.  He cited the Portland Harbor Hotel as the “best example of what not to do.”  The Hampton Inn, on the former site of Jordan’s Meat Factory is “not offensive, but a little clumsy.”  Stevens said “It’s important to mix contemporary with  history.”  Although he would not comment on the specific  plans for the addition to the St. Lawrence Arts Center, he said he does support a contemporary building on that site. The Portland Society of Archictecture has 250 members and is open to all for membership.

“India Street was originally named Broad Street, then King Street before it became India Street,” said Hillary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks during her late afternoon presentation to the forum.  She said it was the center of Portland with the lower part  being very busy.  Micucci’s was originally a house, became a hotel  and is now a popular Italian grocery store. Back in 2002, Landmarks commissioned  a study of the area.  A lot has changed since that time.  So much so that this summer the city will conduct a survey in the area asking two questions:  Should this be a historic district and are there individual properties that should be listed as historical properties?

Carol Morris, of Sustain Southern Maine,  said:  “We are very pleased with the good turnout and good range of people from different locations – from Portland and  beyond.”

For additional information, please visit Post # 1,287, dated 2/5/13.