So yesterday: Portland Harbor bids adieu to the Google barge, ‘for good’

Google barge at Turners Island terminal in South Portland earlier this summer. (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Google barge at Turners Island terminal in South Portland earlier this summer. (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

On Tuesday, Portland Tugboat LLC posted a picture on its Facebook page of the once-celebrated so-called “Google barge” being dragged away from Portland Harbor by the tugger Rowan — as the post said, “for good.”

Thus ends a 10-month stay for the cube-like floating structure that was a whirlwind in terms of interest, but not activity.

Workers at Cianbro's Rickers Wharf Marine Facility in Portland are seen inspecting the newly arrived Google barge the night of Oct. 10, 2013. (BDN file photo by Seth Koenig)

Workers at Cianbro’s Rickers Wharf Marine Facility in Portland are seen inspecting the newly arrived Google barge the night of Oct. 10, 2013. (BDN file photo by Seth Koenig)

Built in Connecticut and shrouded in mystery, the four-story barge building captured imaginations as rumors sprouted that it was everything from a floating prison to a seafaring movie set. It arrived in Portland one night after dark in mid-October, with the public kept at arm’s length and sources shielding its origin and purpose with a veil of “no comments.”

The whole thing had an air of Area 51.

With a similar mystery barge confounding onlookers in San Francisco Bay, reporters from the technology publication C|Net and San Francisco Chronicle launched investigations and ultimately were able to pin down that the man behind the proverbial curtain — the company developing these peculiar structures — was computer giant Google. The company later admitted its role, and word leaked that Google hoped to build three $35-million floating showrooms for its new line of Google Glass products — James Bond-like eyeglass gadgets with computers built into them.

Contractor Cianbro admitted it had been hired to work on the East Coast Google barge once it was moved from New London, Connecticut, to Cianbro’s Rickers Wharf Marine Facility in Portland, and the strange vessel was looked at as an exciting pipeline between Maine and one of the world’s biggest technology companies.

Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue suggested at the time that his company’s work on the Google barge could open the door to future opportunities, and the association between Portland and the Silicon Valley heavyweight seemed to play into the Maine city’s burgeoning technology ambitions.

Portland over the past couple years had been named as one of America’s five “under-the-radar tech hubs,” as well as one of techie.com’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.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin confirmed in late July that the city collected $400,000 in personal property taxes from 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.

But, to steal another sentence from a previous post I made on this subject, Google ultimately ran into permitting problems in California, and C|Net described both the San Francisco and Portland structures as sitting “idle and unfinished for months.”

tweet google bargeThe Portland Press Herald earlier this month broke the news that — instead of being outfitted with Google Glass displays and being triumphantly stationed as a trendy tech hot spot off the coast of New York City — the vessel was being scrapped.

Capt. Brian Fournier of Portland Tugboat LLC told the Press Herald late Tuesday night that the barge and its strange structure are being taken to Boston Harbor before the “showcase” building is disassembled and the barge is sent on to the Gulf of Mexico to be put to work on less glamorous jobs.

The Google barge left Portland Harbor Monday evening, never to return.

“It’s completely hollow inside,” Fournier told the Press Herald of the structure’s current state. “You can look up at the ceiling from the bottom floor. It’s empty.”

I’m sure there’s a metaphor in that somewhere…

Recommend this article
Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

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