Thompson’s Point, which has undergone several identity shifts for more than a decade, has entered a new chapter that its developers hope could make it the city’s next entertainment hub.
The new Children’s Museum & Theater, which has been part of the venue’s development plan since its origin in 2010, opened in late June and is attracting capacity crowds of all ages. With several other new businesses expected to open soon, Thompson’s Point developers have their eyes on making a long-held goal for the property a reality: housing.
Developer Chris Thompson last week said Thompson’s Point has been an “evolving project” over the years, and that he and business partner Jed Troubh have looked at it as creating a neighborhood of sorts with diverse occupants.
“It’s almost like a petri dish, when a new organism comes in everything else responds to it,” Thompson said. “(We) really tried to create a place like that, (where when something) new comes in it creates value.”
Thompson’s Point is about two miles from the Old Port in Portland’s Libbytown neighborhood, behind the Portland Transportation Center overlooking the Fore River. While it’s visible from Interstate 295, it can be off the casual visitor’s radar. But as rents rise on the Portland peninsula that could change.
The point is perhaps best known for its outdoor concerts in the summer, put on through a partnership with the State Theatre. It also offers ice skating in the winter and other events.
Once a hub for Portland’s shipping and railroad industries, Thompson’s Point comprises 2.25 million square feet of land, according to its website. Many of the rail yard buildings at the site were demolished after its early 20th-century heyday, and much of its infrastructure had fallen into disrepair by the time Thompson and Troubh took over.
The campus has come a long way since its original template was created 11 years ago. Thompson said they proposed, among other things, an event center that would be home to the Maine Celtics basketball team (formerly the Red Claws).
Those original plans, along with proposals to host a large local company as an anchor tenant, fell through, Thompson said – in part because the city did not allow large projects to be built in phases. Figuring out how to build around railroad tracks and the site’s complicated infrastructure also proved difficult.
But some proposals from the early days have floated back to the top now that the site is bustling again.
Thompson said last week that since Thompson’s Point has become a place that is easier for people to “imagine living at,” creating housing or building a hotel is back on his radar.
At this point, he said the challenge for developers has become how to “keep doing new things and not mess up what’s great.”
The new Children’s Museum is one element of the campus that developers were set on since the beginning. And the museum has been overwhelmed, often reaching visitor capacity.
Museum Executive Director Julie Butcher Pezzino said she and her staff have been thrilled by the enthusiastic support for the facility since its June 24 opening, and the organization now has more member families than at any point in its history. It has sold out every play session at its new home, has already run a successful set of shows in its theater, and hopes to continue to expand on its programming into the fall.
Visitors might notice, however, that it does not offer a place to eat. Tricia Erikson, director of marketing and corporate relations for the museum, said a cafe was never in the plans because visitors to Thompson’s Point have food and beverages available from Bissell Brothers Brewing, Stroudwater Distillery, Rosemont Market, and Rwanda Bean coffee, as well as food trucks that come and go.
Rwanda Bean opened its third location in the greater Portland area at Thompson’s Point in May, and Bissell Brothers, which added a kitchen earlier this year, will soon move to a new location on the property. Rosemont Market opens at Thompson’s Point this week and will include a wine bar.
Holly Martzial, Rosemont director of marketing, said the market, which will take the former Cellardoor Winery location, was prompted to move in by the opening of the museum.
“It really made a lot of sense for everyone involved in the campus since there aren’t a ton of food options in that area, and people are looking for different options and a different variety of foods at different times of day,” she said.
Martzial described the new Rosemont as being a “picnic Rosemont” that will carry grab-and-go items like sushi, noodles, yogurt, some fresh fruit, and ice cream treats. The wine bar will also offer small plates to complement its wine pairings, including items like meat and cheese, but Martzial said overall most of the offerings will be snack-like instead of full meal portions.
The wine bar, she added, will offer a selection of wines that are available at all of Rosemont’s markets. Martzial said the staff plans to open the new Rosemont for outdoor service only and will start slowly with its schedule.
The market will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, just like the Children’s Museum, she said, and will continue to evolve with an eye on the pandemic. Other businesses on the campus have limited food service hours as well, including Bissell Brothers, which only has its kitchen open Thursday-Sunday.
Ultimately, Thompson said, his and Troubh’s vision for the campus is finally coming to life.
Despite the venue’s changing face, their goal remains the same: taking existing buildings and breathing new life into them, and creating a space that people of all ages can enjoy.
“We’re trying to create a place, that as it grows, feels like it’s always been a part of Portland,” Thompson said. “Maybe you just missed it.”