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Portland, Maine

Portland lost many of its buildings to an 1866 fire, which is why Victorian-style architecture dominates the city.

Portland, Maine

Portland lost many of its buildings to an 1866 fire, which is why Victorian-style architecture dominates the city.

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    Getty Images

    Portland lost many of its buildings to an 1866 fire, which is why Victorian-style architecture dominates the city.

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    Scott Simons Architects

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    Olympia Development

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    Scott Simons Architects

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    Stephen Blatt Architects

One of the few working waterfronts left in the United States, Portland, Maine, is expanding beyond its seafaring tradition.

"Portland is still a port city on the bay, still feels that way, and still sees itself that way in relation to the world," explains Scott Simons, founder of Scott Simons Architects, which calls the city home. "We feel we can develop any product and get that product to anyone else in the world with ease. It's culturally very alive and accessible."

This may explain why the city consistently shows up as part of various "best places" lists. It's on Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine's 2007 list of best cities for midlevel professionals, and last year Inc. put Portland on its list of hot cities for entrepreneurs.

"I rarely meet anyone who moved to Portland for a job transfer," admits Jim Brady, CEO of Olympia Development, a local real estate firm. "But I often meet very interesting, grounded, smart people who say they loved Portland and figured out a way to live where they wanted and figured out a career in a place where they wanted to live."

That mentality is part of what's driving development in the city, including an ambitious mixed-use development on the city's eastern waterfront. "In the coming decade, Portland's skyline and density will change, but I am certain its character will not," Simons asserts. "It's a place well rooted and clear about its purpose."

Population/Growth

Nearly 64,000 people live in Portland. The five-year job growth is 8 percent.

Office Market

Combined Class A and Class B vacancy has decreased, from 7.63 percent last year to 5.98 percent in 2007, according to Grubb & Ellis Co. This is the first such decrease for the city in five years.

Residential Market

Large homes in the historic areas of the peninsula start at $600,000. Farther out, smaller homes typically cost from $250,000 to $350,000.

Market Strengths

  • Financial, business, and cultural center for northern New England
  • Strong transportation infrastructure
  • Educated workforce

Market Concerns

  • Large and rapidly growing older population
  • High personal and business tax rates
  • Challenging local government bureaucracy

Forecast

"Portland—and Maine in general—has to balance our wish for more development and more prosperity with the values that make us an attractive tourist state and a great place to live," explains Susan Ransom, marketing director and associate at PDT Architects. "A greater emphasis on supporting and developing local small business, instead of trying to attract generic businesses from out of state, would feed the local flavor that is part of our state's 'brand,' increase jobs, and keep our money—and the tourists'—from flowing south and west."

Notable Projects

With its 720 spaces, the $20 million, 185,000-square-foot Ocean Gateway Garage, which broke ground in April, will help offset local and cruise line parking demand. Designed by Scott Simons Architects; developed by Ocean Gateway Garage.

Walker Terrace, a $5.4 million, 56-unit mixed-income housing development, was completed in 2006. Designed by Archetype; developed by Maine Workforce Housing.

The $10 million, 120-room Hilton Garden Inn opened in June 2003, when investments in Portland tourism were scarce. Designed by SMRT; developed by Olympia Development.

Key Developers and Builders

Olympia Development
Major project: A proposed $90 million redevelopment of the Maine State Pier, a project that would include several local architectural and engineering firms.
The developer's parent company, Olympia Equity Investments, was named the Maine Economic Developer of the Year in 2004.

Riverwalk LLC
Major project: A $90 million, 2.9-acre, mixed-use project. Co-developed with Boston-based Intercontinental Real Estate Corp.
Partner Fred Forsley founded and co-owns The Shipyard Brewing Co., Maine's largest brewery and a leader in the U.S. craft-brew industry.

Theodore West/Atlantic Bayside Trust
Major project: The $5.4 million, 27,800-square-foot Gorham Savings Bank building, completed in January.
West won Downtown Portland Corp.'s 2006 Economic Development Achievement Award.

Key Architects

Scott Simons Architects
Major project: The $6.5 million, 44,000-square-foot Waynflete School Arts Center. Phase 1 finished in the summer of 2002; Phase 2 is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2008. Developed by Waynflete School.
Founded in 1995, the 12-person firm reported billings of $1.9 million in 2006.

Stephen Blatt Architects
Major project: Completed with LEED Silver certification in May 2006, the $1 million, 70,600-square-foot East End Community School received a merit award from the AIA New Hampshire Environmental Guild and the Jordan Institute in October 2006 as part of the Excellence in Sustainable Design and Development Awards Program.
Founded in 1976, the 19-person firm reported billings of $2.5 million in 2006.

PDT Architects
Major project: The firm's $4 million, 42,000-square-foot rehabilitation of 50 Sewall Street, finished in 2006, created the state's first LEED-certified private building. Developed by Olympia Development.
Founded in 1977 as Portland Design Team, the 20-employee firm reported $3 million in 2006 billings.