The city of Portland recently held a community design workshop to get ideas for how the public would like the Maine State Pier developed. While many great ideas came forward, I suspect an underlying issue is the lack of a form based code for our city.
A form based code might simply state that in the area of the Maine State Pier perhaps all building on Commercial Street would front the sidewalk with no setback and a height of 4-6 stories like 100 Commercial Street such that no elevator would be necessary. A form based code might also add that public access to all pier edges and ends is mandatory; that all buildings on piers be a 4 story maximum; that all piers have public streets down the middle; and that all streets perpendicular to Commercial continue across to the water with potentially future piers built for them (India Street).
In this way, the city can be filled with buildings as developers see opportunity and all public access and enjoyment is pre-guaranteed. Most important, that no matter what use, the city ends up more interesting and wonderful as time goes on.
The final piece to the puzzle is to keep public ownership of the land/piers owned now, so that the building values are never tied to the land and it's value- a great way to keep marine related uses able to afford such prime spots.
We can still specify a particular spot for future public opera house or aquarium but a form based code would really provide a blueprint for such a great city without getting bogged down in each square foot.