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Portland Project in jeopardy

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This project is in serious doubt now

http://business.mainetoday.com/news/050429civictax.shtml

AUGUSTA - Gov. John Baldacci said he will not propose a local sales tax as part of the tax-reform plan he is unveiling today, jeopardizing a developer's proposal to build a $250 million civic and convention center in downtown Portland.

Baldacci's decision - not to pursue a bill that would allow Maine counties to increase the state meals-and-lodging tax to fund local projects - surprised developer Joseph Boulos. Boulos said flatly Thursday that without a so-called "local-option sales tax" passing this spring, the Portland project would not happen.

Indeed, even before Baldacci's decision became public, Boulos called a news conference Thursday morning in Portland to praise the governor and announce that Baldacci had agreed to support the tax.

What Boulos did not say, and later said he did not know, was that Baldacci told legislators Wednesday that his tax-reform package won't include such a bill this time around.

"I am pleased to announce today that the legislation is finally ready," Boulos told a roomful of reporters. "(Baldacci) has assured me . . . that the meals-and-lodging legislation will be included."

Told after the news conference that Baldacci did not plan to propose the tax, Boulos said: "I am shocked. My only response is I am sure it is in the plan."

Baldacci told members of the Legislature's Taxation Committee on Wednesday that he did not plan to include a local-option tax in his tax-reform package. He said the same thing in an interview later that day with a reporter from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Baldacci said in the interview that he continues to support a local-option tax for regional projects like the civic center. But he said he wants to address issues surrounding the state's income and business-equipment taxes before the Legislature adjourns in mid-June. "My package, I think, will have just a narrow focus on income tax and personal property (taxes)," he said.

Martha Freeman, director of the State Planning Office, confirmed Thursday that the local-option tax would not be part of Baldacci's tax-reform plan.

The local meals-and-lodgings tax is the key piece of public financing for Boulos' project, which would include both a civic center and convention center, a 17-story office tower, a 250-room hotel and a parking garage.

Boulos plans to finance the hotel and office tower with private money. He has said the tower already has tenants lined up, including Banknorth, which confirmed its interest earlier this year.

The Boulos project, bordered by Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue next to Portland City Hall, would be a major change to the city's skyline.

Supporters say the convention center would invigorate tourism in southern Maine, drawing national groups that the state currently cannot host. Those visitors would spend money at restaurants and hotels and take trips to other parts of Maine. Some city officials and residents, however, have expressed concern about the project's impact on downtown Portland.

At his news conference Thursday, Boulos unveiled architect's drawings of the Portland project - dubbed Lincoln Center, after a nearby park - which he said he kept under wraps for months at Baldacci's request.

He said he agreed to give Baldacci time to put together a tax-reform package that would include the local-option tax legislation.

"I want to personally thank the governor for having the courage, the foresight and the leadership to introduce this legislation, because he truly believes we need this half-billion dollar injection into the Maine economy," Boulos said.

The news conference surprised Portland officials, who were invited to attend about an hour before its 11 a.m. start. Boulos also brought in Lewiston City Manager James Bennett, who touted that city's plans for its own convention center. Cianbro president Peter Vigue also attended. Officials from Bangor and Aroostook County were unable to attend.

"It clearly was scheduled at the last minute," said Portland City Councilor James Cloutier.

With Baldacci in Washington on Thursday, lobbying to keep Maine's military bases open, Boulos' news conference confounded the governor's staff.

"It appears that Mr. Boulos misspoke," said Baldacci spokesman Lynn Kippax.

Kippax recounted the governor's conversation with the Legislature's Taxation Committee the day before, when Baldacci encouraged lawmakers to gain the Republican support necessary to pass local-option legislation.

"The governor can support the idea, but the Legislature has to pass it," Kippax said. "What's important is that we not argue and pressure each other into positions, but work together to do what's best for Maine."

Kippax said he believes Baldacci won't take Boulos' comments as a political affront. "He's got a state to run and he's got a thick skin," she said.

Boulos may not be so forgiving. He believes Baldacci made him a promise and he expects the governor to keep it. "If he doesn't, he's robbing the state of a half-billion dollars in economic development," Boulos said after the news conference.

What Boulos and the Baldacci administration discussed in recent months is giving counties the ability to levy up to a 2 percent sales tax on meals and lodging. This would be on top of the current 7 percent tax on these services. Both the tax and project would need approval from the county's voters.

Boulos has pitched the project as a way to combine public money and private investment to bring jobs, tourists and new investment to Portland.

But Boulos and supporters have struggled to win support at the State House for the project, which he has spent more than a year developing.

Lawmakers have been debating a local-option tax for more than two decades, but the idea has never won enough support to pass the Legislature.

This year, even legislators from Portland were lukewarm to the idea. Members of the city's delegation support a local-option tax, but differ on which project or program should get the money from it.

The tax, meanwhile, continues to meet resistance from lobbyists representing restaurants, inns and other businesses that would have to levy it. Some rural lawmakers also oppose it, saying their constituents would pay the tax when they visit cities like Portland, but would not benefit from the civic center or convention center.

Republican legislative leaders, whom Boulos approached about his project, also view a meals-and-lodgings tax as a new tax, and their members do not support new taxes.

"It sounds like a new tax to me," said Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis, R-Sangerville. "I don't believe people will tolerate it."

"It (the local-option tax) is one of the ones that can tear the whole proposal apart," said state Sen. Joseph Perry, D-Bangor, co-chairman of the Legislature's Taxation Committee

050429civiccenter.jpg

Developer Joseph Boulos unveiled this drawing Thursday of his proposed civic and convention center in downtown Portland. The plans include a 17-story office tower, a 250-room hotel and a parking garage. The complex would be built next to City Hall.

Developer Joseph Boulos says that without a local-option sales tax, his $250 million Portland project won't happen.

050429boulos.jpg

Today's Question

Each day, we ask MaineToday.com readers for their reactions to events in the news:

Local-Option Sales Tax

A Portland developer has proposed building a new civic center with funds raised by a local-option sales tax. The tax could be used to fund local projects throughout Maine. The Legislature would have to give counties the ability to levy up to a 2 percent sales tax on meals and lodging. This would be on top of the current 7 percent tax on these services. The tax and project would need approval from the county's voters. Should Maine give counties the chance to impose a local-option sales tax?

No: 69.06%

Yes: 29.50%

Undecided: 1.44%

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Agreed, Mr. Brown. I have to admit that I'm not very familar with statewide Maine politics, but I do notice this sort of thing is rather common in the "Vacation Land."

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You win some, you lose some. So it's a good thing that there are a few really nice hotel and condo developments on the way. We can get by with the Civic Center for atleast another 5 years.

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Does this give you memories?

LINCOLNSQUARE80S.bmp

Ah, Portland you amaze me!

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shazbat73: what exactly is the newspaper clipping a post of? was that proposed for portland or something? if so, what was it supposed to be and how llong ago was it proposed? thanks.

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pvenne, This is the Lincoln Square proposal from the late 80's. I got the clippings from the Portland Press Herald. And yes, it's in Portland. Here is some better pics:

LINCOLNSQUARE80S2.jpg

Close-up:

LINCOLNSQUARECLOSEUP2.jpg

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Remember the 9 million room hotel proposal for South Portland a few years back. :rofl:

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Remember the 9 million room hotel proposal for South Portland a few years back.  :rofl:

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Don't remind me! :cry::P

Wasn't it supposed to be like 60 stories? That would have been insane. South Portland of all places. Do you have any clippings of that tower shazbat?

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Don't remind me! :cry:  :P

Wasn't it supposed to be like 60 stories? That would have been insane. South Portland of all places. Do you have any clippings of that tower shazbat?

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from what i remember, there was first a proposal by this greek guy by the name of cacoulidis or something from new york city who now lives on an island off of portland to build one or two 35-story buildings across the harbor from portland. after receiving a negative response from the community, instead of scaling his plans back for the springt point area (22 acres that he still owns and hopes to develop) he responded by proposing 2 41 story hotel towers that would sit atop a civic and convention center capable of holding up to the entire current population of portland (roughly 65,000 ppl) with the intent of drawing national political conventions and such to southern maine. also, he proposed to have cable cars strung across the water leading from so. po. to portland's old port, and a new marina. in addition to the convention center, he proposed a plastic surgery hospital on one of the lower levels to keep pccupancy rates in the hotel at a more satisfactory level year-round. if you ask me, rather than stupidity, this was a very smart move on his part. i believe he never had any intention of building either of these developments...however, he now has plans to construct a 15-story hotel or office tower on the same parcel of land. in comparison to a 41 story hotel which would have been the tallest in most of new england and most parts of new york, a 15 story hotel should get relatively easy approval. BUT, had he not come out with an outlandish proposal; at first, given mainers contrary attitudes to anything beneficial, i doubt even a 15-story tower would have been approved. i could be wronf about his intentions when proposing the uncharacteristically tall structures, which he still keeps drawings of in his portland office, but my theory seems to make a lot of sense to me, and probably to anyone else who also knows how hard it is to build anything significant in the portland area.

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Pvenne I agree with you. I grew up in the Shapliegh area north of Sanford. Up until I joined the military 10 years ago I used to read the Press Herald and watch the news on a regular basis. I've seen so many proposals come and go from southern Maine it's heartbreaking. Mainer's are stubbern as hell. A couple of examples are Factory Island in Saco and the Casino for South Sanford. Could you believe that at one time there was a 14 story condo proposed for Factory island? Sadly, there was no public interest. And as for the Casino complex(10% of which would only hold a casino) there would have been a large hotel and convention center. It could have been a great place to work for the soon to be unemployed shipyard workers!!! As usual, Mainer's stubberness brings about negative results!Sorry Corey, no pics for this one. I think it got shot down too fast!

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...As for the Casino complex(10% of which would only hold a casino) there would have been a large hotel and convention center. It could have been a great place to work for the soon to be unemployed shipyard workers!!!

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Exactly! I live in Bar Mills/Buxton/Standish general area, not too far away from Sanford, and I was in favor of some sort of a casino. Although I wasn't old enough to actually vote on the issue at the time.

As far as new development in South Portland goes, it's too bad that alot of the oil tanks are right across the way from Portland. If those tanks weren't there it would be a great area for development. It's still a nice area though.

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The aerial tramway connecting Portland and South Portland would actually be kind of neat.

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