Maine has long been a celebrated summer getaway for New Englanders. Now, a business owner in Portland, Maine, wants to let meeting planners in on the secret by building a new hotel and convention center that will finally turn the Pine Tree State's largest city into a competitive destination for meetings and conventions.
According to the Portland Press Herald
, Fred Forsley, a co-owner of the Shipyard Brewing Co. on Portland's historic working waterfront, has created a plan to develop a 300,000- to 600,000-square-foot development on Portland's peninsula — on land his brewery owns — that would include a convention center, a 200- to 300-room hotel and a four-year culinary school. The facility would be built "over or around" the brewery, according to Forsley, who said the brewery would be an "added attraction" for the convention center.
Forsley previously was a member of the board of trustees for the Cumberland County Civic Center — Portland's principal meeting venue — but resigned his post in March to pursue his proposal and avoid a conflict of interest. Although he hasn't specified a timeline or budget for the project, he said has discussed his plans with Portland's city manager, its economic development director, and the head of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, all of whom were receptive to the idea.
"If you build it right and market it properly, they will come," Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Barbara Whitten told the Press Herald. "We would be in the game for New England and regional conferences, if not national conferences."
Currently, Portland's largest meeting venues are the civic center, which is designed for entertainment and sporting events, and the Holiday Inn by the Bay. According to Whitten, neither is designed for large conventions.
Portland last considered a convention center five years ago, although that proposal fell through when lawmakers refused to support new taxes for funding it. Meanwhile, convention centers have been built in competing New England destinations such as Boston and Worcester, Mass.; Providence, R.I.; and Hartford, Conn. — putting Portland further still behind the ball.