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Portland, Maine, Board Approves Construction of 179-Room Hotel Next to City Hall

Mon February 20, 2023 - Northeast Edition #9
Portland Press Herald

View from Congress and Exchange streets looking towards the proposed hotel in black and brown, and the massing of future phases in light gray. (Rendering courtesy of Johnson Nathan Strohe Architecture and Interior Design)
View from Congress and Exchange streets looking towards the proposed hotel in black and brown, and the massing of future phases in light gray. (Rendering courtesy of Johnson Nathan Strohe Architecture and Interior Design)

The city planning board in Portland, Maine, approved plans for a 179-room hotel Feb. 14 as part of a major redevelopment of the block on Congress Street just east of City Hall.

The Portland Press Herald reported that board members voted unanimously to approve a site plan for the hotel, which makes up Phase I of the Herald Square project at 385 Congress St. The initial phase of the project also includes nine condominiums on the upper floors of the building and 75 parking garage spaces.

"I think this is a really good project and I look forward to it being built," Portland Planning Board Chair Maggie Stanley told the news outlet.

The proposal came with conditions, including the stipulation that Fathom Companies, a local real estate firm building the hotel, also submit a handful of updates and finish a public access easement for a pedestrian plaza prior to getting a building permit.

Jim Brady, president of Fathom, which also operates the Press Hotel across Congress Street, said it is too soon to say when construction might start.

"I don't have a timeline yet," he replied when questioned by the Press Herald prior to the Feb. 14 meeting. "We're just finalizing the site plan approval and will see how things progress to the next steps. It will not be any time within the next six months."

During the public comment period of the Portland Planning Board meeting, only one person spoke about the project.

"This block needs more street level retail, more green space and more activity," said Myrtle Street resident Avery Yale Kamila. "The project proposes to add all three. My family and I support this project. I welcome more people in the neighborhood and welcome the project."

The as-yet unnamed hotel, which will be located at the corner of Congress and Myrtle streets, is planned to be 12 stories, and occupy a space that previously housed the Press Herald's printing operations but is now used for private parking.

The city's inclusionary zoning requirements mandate that hotel projects either build a certain number of low-income housing units based on the number of rooms they will have or pay a fee-in-lieu-of to Portland's affordable housing trust fund.

Brady told the Portland news source that Fathom plans to pay the fee-in-lieu-of, adding that it would work out to about $700,000 in fees for the hotel's 179 rooms.

Hotel Just One Part of Larger Redevelopment

The downtown hotel is meant to be one component of a multi-phase redevelopment of the block between Cumberland Avenue and Congress Street, and Myrtle and Pearl streets.

According to a development plan approved last August, the total project will include three attached buildings, including the hotel, 297 condominiums, seven retail units totaling about 11,500 sq. ft., a 5,100-sq.-ft. restaurant, recreation space, and more than 330 parking spaces.

It has previously been estimated to cost $200 million to $300 million total, the Press Herald noted.

Reger Dasco Properties in Portland is the developer behind other phases of the project that will include two condo buildings that have yet to be approved by the planning board. Brady said it has not been determined whether the hotel or the condos will be built first.

Traffic Movement Study Needed Before Construction

In a related matter, the Portland Planning Board also unanimously approved a traffic movement permit for the overall hotel development effort, which is required by the state for any project that generates 100 or more passenger car equivalents at peak hours, the Press Herald reported.

A traffic study conducted by South Portland's Sebago Technics estimated that together, the hotel, condos and commercial space would generate 119 trips per hour during peak morning hours and 124 trips per hour during peak evening hours.

The permit was approved with several conditions, including upgrades to traffic signals, sidewalks and intersections and that a traffic monitoring program be implemented after the hotel opens to study valet operations and parking.

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