Report: Google giving up on its floating showroom — mystery barge to be scrapped

Google barge at Turners Island terminal in South Portland on Thursday. (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Google barge at Turners Island terminal in South Portland on Thursday. (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Tip of the cap here to the Portland Press Herald’s Tom Bell, who, after a day of speculation about the latest movements of Google’s mysterious barge, uncovered the news that the cube-shaped floating structure is bound for… the scrap heap.

Tom was the first to report this morning that Lance Hanna, deputy harbor master for Portland Harbor, said the Google barge structure is being disassembled at its current location at South Portland’s Turners Island terminal for scrap.

This comes less than 24 hours after Turners Island LLC owner Roger Hale said his crews were preparing it for an “ocean voyage.” Hale said he couldn’t say much more about the project, but under the light of Hanna’s comments, it now appears that ocean voyage may be as a pile of steel.

(BDN file photo by Seth Koenig)

(BDN file photo by Seth Koenig)

That’s an unceremonious finale for what Google once hailed as a floating showroom for its buzzworthy Google Glass products — spectacles with little computer screens embedded in them. Why the computer giant is throwing in the towel on its barges (there were to be two in California in addition to the one in Maine) is unclear.

The city of Portland assesses the local one at a value of $40 million, and for more than nine months, it sat at contractor Cianbro’s Rickers Wharf Marine Facility, where it stoked public curiosity and tied Maine’s largest city to Silicon Valley-style technology innovation. It was the type of association Portland was happy to have as it massaged a reputation as a burgeoning tech hotspot.

Portland over the past couple years has been named as one of America’s five “under-the-radar tech hubs,” as well as one of’s 10 most “unexpected cities for high-tech innovation” and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s top 10 metropolitan areas for density of information/communications technology startups.

An architect’s rendering acquired through a Freedom of Information Act filing with the Port of San Francisco by

An architect’s rendering of the possible finished product acquired through a Freedom of Information Act filing with the Port of San Francisco by

When the Google barge first arrived in October, it was fresh off of a bubble of wild public speculation about what it really was, with theories ranging from a floating prison to a space-age movie set. An investigation into the San Francisco-based barge by the tech publication C|Net tied the peculiar vessels to Google, and the computer giant owned up to its role a month or so later, admitting it was developing the barges as floating showrooms for new technology.

But Google ran into permitting problems in California, and C|Net today described both the San Francisco and Portland structures as sitting “idle and unfinished for months.”

Although this physical tie to one of the world’s biggest technology companies is apparently crumbling, Portland was reasonably well compensated for the nine months before the barge was tugged over to South Portland on Wednesday.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin confirmed on Thursday that the city collected $400,000 in personal property taxes for the vessel for its time in Portland.

She said the structure’s owners actually were exempt from paying such taxes under the state’s Business Equipment Tax Exemption, but that the state reimbursed the city for 50 percent of the value, resulting in a payment amount equal to $400,000.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.