2017-03-23 / News

Saco Comp Plan Committee seeks advice from Portland

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

SACO – Saco is in the midst of updating its comprehensive plan, so when the city committee charged with the job scheduled a date to focus on economic development, it invited Portland Economic Development Director Gregory Mitchell.

Saco Economic Development Director Bill Mann said Mitchell was invited so the comprehensive plan committee could gain insight on Portland’s economic approaches and tools.

“Greg is very seasoned, very good and an excellent speaker,” Mann said. “We know him to be a constant professional who does a great job. He’s really good at what he does.”

Mann said he hoped Mitchell’s presentation would provide objective information and provide different options and ideas to the committee in terms of economic growth.

“Some of the things he’s doing are things we’re hoping to do,” Mann said. “We’re hoping to get an independent review of things we can do as community. There’s all kinds of opportunity. We wanted Greg to come down and present what’s happening in his community to move forward for our economic development initiative. What are the things they’re doing, or some of the municipal and community based partnerships that they have? We are limited by imagination and capacity to do some of these things, so that was kind of the reason (we invited Mitchell) and what I thought the commission would get out of it.”

Mitchell presented a slideshow at the March 16 meeting at Saco City Hall, titled, “City of Portland Economic Growth Presentation to the Saco Comprehensive Plan Update Committee.” It highlighted Portland statistics such as its population, diversity, unemployment rate and diversified tax base. It also detailed Portland’s economic development plan, its current state of various properties and development tools.

Mitchell said Portland’s economic development tools include a tax increment financing policy; Portland Downtown Business Improvement District, an organization that brings events and people to downtown and ensures cleanliness of the area; Portland Development Corporation, an organization created by the city council that provides financial assistance to businesses and industries throughout the city; Creative Portland, a nonprofit that helps support the city’s economic development efforts that enhance and create business in the creative economy, arts district development and employment opportunities; form-based zoning, which establishes a zoning district that encourages a vibrant, walkable, mixed-use urban district; and historic preservation to recognize and preserve its collection of historic architecture and landscapes.

The presentation also listed economic drivers regarding transportation, which includes Portland International Jetport, Amtrak Downeaster, the cruise ship industry and its international marine terminal.

“From my perspective some of the most important things to focus on is our major transportation assets. I call them ‘economic drivers,’” Mitchell said. “They’re the platform to support economic growth.”

The Amtrak Downeaster, which stops in Saco, brings in about a half million passengers to Portland annually, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said what’s more important from a municipal perspective is Portland has a “very healthy tax base. (Portland’s tax base is) 44 percent commercial-industrial and 56 percent residential. So if you look at your community from a residential and a commercial-industrial perspective, it tells you where you can end up from a revenue perspective.”

Mann said one thing he heard from a comprehensive plan committee member about the meeting was a feeling of optimism.

“One member indicated they left optimistic and inspired by things Saco can do,” Mann said. “(The member) was pleasantly surprised to learn as a percentage of the total tax base, the commercial-industrial base is actually growing. There’s been a perception that the residential tax base is growing faster than commercial-industrial.”

Mann said the residential tax base during the last nine years decreased from 73.63 percent of the total value to 72.15 percent, a decrease by a point and a half. The commercial/industrial tax base has gone up from 18 to a little more than 20 percent.

At the end of the meeting, Senior Planner for Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission Kathy Connor said that the company is halfway through its process of collecting data for Saco’s comprehensive plan update. Saco hired the commission to help with the update.

“Tonight we are concluding our inventory, or your appendices,” she said. “We’ve been talking about what is in Saco, and starting in two weeks we’ll be talking about what can be in Saco, so we’ll start talking about goals, policies and strategies.”

The next meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 6 at Saco City Hall. Topics include sea level rise and land use.

“It’s pretty tough to talk about both policies and strategies that are concerned about sea level rise if you’re not talking about land use at the same time,” Connor said.

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