Rockland mulls impact of proposed three-fer property sale on working waterfront

Posted 2021-07-28

The proposed sale of three commercial waterfront properties in Rockland could bring new development and new tax revenue, but could also put pressure on shrinking working waterfront space, perhaps changing the community forever.

The potential sale, announced earlier this month, would package together properties that in total span 8.77 acres of land and waterfront infrastructure, include more than 55,000 square feet of industrial space, and nestle between the harbor and Main Street at the north end of the city’s downtown.

Current businesses there represent a cross-section of Rockland. They include Schooner Wharf, which offers deep-water berthing for ships, Steel-Pro Inc., which manufactures stainless steel tanks and other industrial items, and North End Shipyard Inc., a marina and boatyard that serves passenger schooners.

Going from a steel manufacturer and tall ships marina to potential boutique hotels and shops could be a shock for Rockland and mean a loss of working waterfront and space for traditional businesses there, experts said.

“When you’re putting a large part of the working waterfront up for potential development, it can fundamentally change the nature of a community,” said Sam Belknap, senior community development officer of the nonprofit, Rockland-based Island Institute. “Once a piece of working waterfront is gone — it’s gone forever.”

“Working waterfront is getting squeezed by development pressures, which are becoming even more tremendous as Maine real estate gets even more valuable,” Belknap said. “The pressures are never going to go away — financial pressures, climate change, development pressures. But working waterfronts are the critical underpinning of the blue economy for the state of Maine.”

The blue economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health, according to the World Bank.