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November 18, 2013

Portland waterfront is draw for circus school

Thompson's Point area gets city, investor attention

by Craig Idlebrook

Thompson's Point
Thompson's Point

PORTLAND — Development deals don't often involve clown noses, but one of the biggest development projects in the city's history will have a circus school as one of its first tenants.

The Circus Conservatory of America announced it would open a school at the soon-to-be-constructed development at Thompson's Point, according to Chris Thompson, president of Lewiston-based Parallax Partners Inc., the principal investors behind the development.

The school, which will offer a four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in circus arts, will be one of the first tenants for the highly visible peninsula development bordering the Fore River. The school, said Thompson, has a sterling reputation.

"It's really kind of a conservatory," Thompson said, "like the Julliard of circus schools."

And the city, in turn, seemed to the conservatory's backers like a perfect place to locate the school, Thompson said. It offers easy access to Montreal and Quebec City, both hubs of circus activity in North America, as well as important circus venues in Vermont. And the school's planners said Portland was an attractive place to be for its own attributes, he said. 

"They're really excited and attracted by the creative economy," Thompson said.

The addition of the circus school may be dwarfed by the economic draw of the bigger development deals planned for Thompson's Point, which includes an events center that will house a minor league basketball team.

But it's part of the creative draw that developers envisioned for the Portland development. The city's economic director Greg Mitchell said the Thompson's Point parcel has an incredible potential to enhance the city’s identity.

"It stands to really create a gateway impression for people who are travelling and it’s a destination from an end-use standpoint," Mitchell said.

Thompson's Point is just west of I-295, southwest of the "peninsula" part of the city.

In addition to housing the circus conservatory, the proposed development would be the new home of the Maine Red Claws, the NBA development league basketball team; concerts, a hotel, a parking garage, offices and a bakery. 

One of the chief draws of the parcel is its potential to connect with Portland railway infrastructure. The parcel's transportation hub potential was augmented recently by news of a land deal to relocate a nearby propane business to a different location in Portland. Under the deal announced in October, the city of Portland agreed to sell a three-acre parcel in the city to the Thompson's Point developers, who then would provide it to Suburban Propane to relocate its business.

The deal would pave the way for the proposed event center and parking garage to have better access to transportation infrastructure, Thompson said. 

"Those two areas can essentially function as a complex and be right at the front door to the transportation center," Thompson said. 

The development already has completed much of the permitting process, but some of those permits will have to be reopened with the addition of the acreage gained from the Suburban Propane deal, Mitchell said. Thompson believes that even with the additional permitting, construction will begin on the development in December.   




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