The City of Belfast will seek proposals for an expansive master plan for the downtown and waterfront districts.

The plan, according to a request for proposals approved March 4 by the City Council, would be broken down into six broad categories, including the “Coastal Walkway” — a waterfront promenade that has been in the works for at least a year — street and parking improvements, use of city property, marine and harbor improvements, private lands and development, and a category titled “gateways and informational signage.”

Applicants would be asked to pick up the Coastal Walkway project in mid-process and complete a layout and design plan. The Maine Department of Transportation awarded the city $250,000 in Dec. 2008 and the city has set aside $200,000 in matching funds to complete the walkway, which would extend from Steamboat Landing to the west end of the footbridge and include an additional segment on the east side of the footbridge.

In the text of the RFP, City Planner Wayne Marshall, who drafted the document based on recommendations from the City Council, qualified the amounts, saying, “The City also clearly recognizes that the cost to design and construct all segments of the coastal walkway will exceed the $450,000 that is currently available.”

As to how much money would be available beyond that, Marshall has cautioned the council that setting a final price tag for the project known could influence the bids that are returned.

To date, the Council has not set aside money for either the plan or implementation.

The portion of the proposal dedicated to street and parking improvements includes a “reconstruction” of Front Street to take into consideration current and possible future uses. The RFP also asks for recommendations for Beaver, Cross and Washington Streets, the latter two of which Marshall describes as having “little character.” Washington Street, he calls, “little more than a hunk of pavement.”

Public parking areas to be considered would include the Washington and Cross Street lots, and the parking areas at Belfast Common and Steamboat Landing. Sidewalk restoration would focus on Main, Church and High Streets. Of the sidewalks to be potentially extended, the RFP lists: Market Street, from Church Street to Main Street; Lower Spring Street, from Cross Street to Front Street; and Church Street between Anderson and Market Streets.

Use of city-owned land would include a review of parks policy and the future use of a three-acre parcel at Thompson’s Wharf currently leased to the Belfast Boatyard. The property is adjacent to the former Stinson Seafood cannery.

On the topic of the harbor, the RFP asks the consultant to work with the city Harbor Committee and the City Council to compile a list of future capital improvements.

At the March 4 City Council meeting, Councilor Roger Lee questioned whether including harbor improvements in the plan — which would likely require specialized knowledge — would scare off bidders without those qualifications. Marshall responded that he had seen successful plans that included a waterfront component in Harpswell and Brewer.

In the section of the RFP devoted to private property development, Marshall notes that not only are private developments somewhat outside the control of the city, but they can affect public projects, as happened when a planned $12 million redevelopment of the Stinson property in 2006 folded in its early stages, taking with it a segment of the coastal walkway, which the developer was to build as a condition of a contract rezoning agreement negotiated with the city.

The RFP also identifies the Masonic Temple, the Opera House and the building that currently houses Key Bank as examples of larger, historic buildings that have been underutilized, particularly on the upper floors.

The “Gateways & Informational Signage” component of the RFP speaks of the steep incline of Main Street that is credited for discouraging tourists who arrive by boat from exploring Upper Main Street and High Street. Approaches suggested include informational signage, brochures and kiosks.

The new master plan appears to belong to a family of plans dating to the 1991 Harbor Management Plan, and including the 1994 Belfast Renaissance Plan, the 2006 report titled “Creating Vibrancy in Belfast,” and the Belfast Leadership and Action Summit, convened in 2007 to address the recommendations of the Vibrancy report.

Each of these plans has characterized Belfast as a city in transition — the word “crossroads” appears in at least two of the reports — and by and large the goals have been similar. In each report the emphasis on keeping a working waterfront is coupled with the recognition that the harbor has drifted toward recreational uses. To varying degrees the reports have searched for ways to capture Belfast’s identity and use it to draw tourists and development to the area.

Major projects, both completed and incomplete, that have featured in the reports include reclaiming the Penobscot Poultry property and Mathews Brothers waterfront lumberyard, building a performance or events facility capable of hosting 500 to 1,000 people, improving the Stinson property — considered while the plant was still operational — mitigating the odor that once emanated from the wastewater treatment plant, dredging the harbor, building a breakwater at the end of Commercial Street, building bathrooms at the base of Main Street, expanding the Belfast & Moosehead Lake rail station — at the time of the Renaissance Plan, the railroad was still ascendant — improving Front Street, and expanding the city’s public parking lots.