by Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director
Maine Historical Society and Portland Public Library, two of Portland’s most important institutions, have joined in an exciting and innovative partnership.
Congress Street is Portland’s Main Street, and we have each filled our buildings with people and programs that are at the heart and soul of Portland’s diverse and vibrant community. We have also filled our buildings with books, special collections, and artifacts that catalog the history of our city and state. And now, we are out of space!
Together, Maine Historical Society and Portland Public Library are developing a 35,500 square foot shared collection management center on Riverside Street in Portland. I want to share with you what this incredible opportunity means for MHS.
The collections center will allow both organizations to expand programs on Congress Street, and to meet the needs of children, neighbors, our extended communities, and visitors to Maine from around the world. The center will be a vibrant hub for both organizations—the place we manage, process, care for, prepare, preserve, and transfer our collections. Material will move constantly between Riverside Street and MHS’s Brown Library and Museum, PPL’s Main and local branches, and across the state. The facility will support all of our programmatic activities.
The collaboration between MHS and PPL sets the foundation for our futures—it establishes the infrastructure required to support our statewide work and programs, lays the groundwork for more dynamic use and continued development of our campuses on Congress Street, and is deeply tied to our long-term financial sustainability.
What’s unique and special about this partnership?
First, the depth and structural nature of the collaboration. All non-profits need to think deeply about their relationship to their communities, how their work relates to other organizations, and to find new ways to combine forces and share resources. We have purchased the building and designed the fit-up jointly, are sharing construction costs equally, and raising all funds together. In the end, we will each own a condominium unit (a valuable asset) and maintain our own space but manage the facility together. When construction is complete, we will have prepared the facility for the unique programs of each organization, made it efficient to run, and addressed long-term capital needs.
For MHS, this will mean that we can immediately begin to use our campus as a laboratory—a space where we test the ideas, principles, and activities that will drive our program in the future. Once construction is complete, we will immediately be able to move materials out of spaces not designed or well-used for storage—including the beautiful second floor reading room of the Brown Library, spaces adjacent to our museum gallery, and other areas. We will immediately be able to redeploy those spaces for public use and engagement, and to expand a broad range of successful programs that serve diverse audiences.
Ultimately, the facility on Riverside Street will free 18,000 square feet of valuable space, give MHS a blank slate as we begin to plan a new museum facility, spur further development of our campus, and enable us to remake our presence as an anchor on Congress Street.
Let me describe several other intriguing elements of the project that we are pursuing. The roofs of the buildings at Riverside Street have the capacity to generate enough solar energy to not only provide for our electricity needs there, but to significantly subsidize PPL and MHS’s energy usage on Congress Street. We are pursuing solar partners and investors. The 3-acre lot also has space for additional development, and we are actively exploring development opportunities with several potential partners with similar needs and interests.
I am just scratching the surface here. I look forward to sharing further details about the project in the months ahead—the incredible collaboration, camaraderie, and leadership between the boards of PPL and MHS, the rigorous process we went through to arrive at this solution, and the significant contributions made by partners in the community.
Finally, this initiative signals MHS’s deep commitment to the care, preservation, and continued development of its physical collections—the heart of our work.
There is still much money to be raised and work to be done, but this initiative is well underway and will be transformative for PPL and MHS. It will pay tremendous dividends to the community and to everyone whom our organizations touch.