Google's 'mystery barge' is on the move once again

The barge was assembled in New London, surrounded by secrecy,  and towed away with no fanfare last October.
The barge was assembled in New London, surrounded by secrecy, and towed away with no fanfare last October. Day file photo

Google's four-story barge, which was built in New London and moved to Maine in October, was moved to South Portland, Maine, on Wednesday and is said to be leaving soon for points unknown.

Roger Hale, owner of Turners Island cargo terminal in South Portland where the barge is docked, said the structure had been purchased by an unnamed "international barging company" and is being prepared to leave Portland for an "ocean voyage." Hale said the barge will not be docked in South Portland for very long.

The barge was hauled by tugboat from Portland to South Portland on Wednesday.

In December, the Portland Press Herald reported that the barge would be one of three floating luxury showrooms that the high-tech company planned to launch in San Francisco, New York City and Los Angeles.

According to documents submitted to the Port of San Francisco, where one of the barges had been docked, the floating storefronts would sail along the East and West coasts. They would stop in port cities to tout the tech company's newest products, including Google Glass, a wearable computer built into glasses frames, and a self-driving car. The barges also would include an invitation-only party deck for VIP customers.

When completed, the upscale Google showrooms were expected to compete with Apple's stylized storefronts.

The barge in San Francisco, almost identical to the one in Portland, was moved by river to the Port of Stockton, about 80 miles east of San Francisco, where it is scheduled to start construction. It was moved from Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay in March after the Bay Conservation and Development Commission said Google did not have the necessary permits to allow it to perform construction work in San Francisco.

Both barges are owned by By and Large, a company affiliated with Google. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

The plans that By and Large presented to the Port of San Francisco indicate the stacked shipping containers would be outfitted with decorative sails so the barge would look like a boat.

Officials from Stockton told the Los Angeles Times in March that they hoped the barge would bring an economic boost to the city.

But Portland's barge has remained untouched since it was hauled by a tugboat into Portland Harbor on Oct. 10. It remained docked until Wednesday at the Rickers Wharf Marine Facility.

The four-story structure with small slits for windows was built in New London by Turner Construction. It is made out of 63 recycled shipping containers welded together. Additional construction plans for the barge featured giant sails and a roof deck, according to documents filed by Turner Construction.

Cianbro Corp. had been scheduled to do interior work, but there has been little to no construction on the structure since it showed up in Maine. An employee with Cianbro declined to comment.

Portland does not require any permits for construction on the barge, so no plans were ever filed at City Hall, according to city of Portland spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

However, the city did collect $400,000 in personal property taxes on the barge because it was berthed on the waterfront as of April 1, 2014. That's based on the $40 million assessed value of the barge, minus a state tax exemption on business equipment, Grondin said.

The city stood to collect another $400,000 in tax revenue next April 1. But, now that it appears the barge may be leaving, the city may be out of luck.

McAllister Towing, the tugboat company that likely pulled the barge to South Portland, declined to comment.

Lt. Scott McCann, a spokesman for the Northern New England Coast Guard, based in South Portland, said the Coast Guard does not need to be notified if the barge is moved.

cdiana@pressherald.com

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