2012-08-03 / Community

South Portland loses out on bicycle grant

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland Bike and Pedestrian Committee received what committee member and city Planning Director Tex Haeuser called a “very thin letter” from the National Endowment for the Arts at the beginning of July. The letter came in response to a grant application the committee submitted this spring.

As any student heading to college knows, a thin letter is never a good sign.

The National Endowment for the Arts decided not to award the city a $61,000 grant the committee hoped would bring “the creativity of South Portland’s artists and designers to bear” on the city’s bike and pedestrian facilities, as the committee wrote in a report it presented the city council on June 25.

The grant would have allowed the committee to enlist the help of the Maine Center for Creativity, the group currently working to paint the Sprague Oil Tanks, to create “sculptural bike racks” artists would design, then work with students to create.

The grant also included a proposal to start a Community Cultural Center in the former Military Museum in Mill Creek Park, which, the committee wrote in the report, would provide space for open artist studios, public gallery space and a student-run “Bike Library” for residents to borrow bikes.

“It was really to build the arts and community center right there in the park, use it as a bike hub, and promote the highlights and sights of South Portland,” said committee member and South Portland City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis.

The National Endowment for the Arts did not give any specific reasons in the response letter for its decision or suggest changes, which De Angelis said left the committee feeling like it is “shooting in the dark.” But Haeuser said the committee has set up a phone conference with members of the Nation Endowment for the Arts on Tuesday, Aug. 21 to, as he put it, “find out where we fell down on the application.”

De Angelis said the committee thought “the grant was written in a great way” and its members were disappointed by the decision, but the committee would “definitely” resubmit after the conversation with the National Endowment for the Arts.

But Haeuser stopped short of saying that the committee had plans to re-apply for the grant. He said only that the committee will reassess its options after the conference with the National Endowment for the Arts next month so its members will know more about where their proposal failed and what they need to add or subtract in order to have more success the second time around.

The committee also hopes to secure funding from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, or PACTS, for two additional projects. One would install 188 bike racks at 47 municipal and school facilities around the city. The other would extend the bike and pedestrian path currently being constructed as part of the Veterans Memorial Bridge Project.

The original plans call for that multi-use path to end the intersection of Main Street and the I-295 connector, but if the city receives the grant from PACTS, the path would extend to “Cash Corner,” at Route 1 and Broadway.

Haeuser said it seems like the committee “made it through round one” on those proposals, but members of PACTS told the committee that the cost estimates for the project are higher than originally thought. Two committee members, Paul Niehoff and Carl Eppich, work as planners for PACTS.

The bike and pedestrian committee will next meet on Monday, Aug. 20, when it will take a look at longterm goals and respond to the public comment they received at a public forum held in November, when about 35 residents attended to voice their opinion.

“We want to respond to (the public) and say, here are the things we’ve done from January to now,” De Angelis said. She added the committee hopes to organize another public forum this October.

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