Ambassadors in Portland praise possible maritime venture

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PORTLAND — Thor Sigfusson admitted some reticence in speaking on Tuesday morning to a gathering at the U.S. Custom House on Commercial Street.

“I would be better standing here with a bit of fish skin in my hands,” he said as he addressed Mayor Michael Brennan, U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Robert Barber, Icelandic Ambassador to the United States Geir Haarde, five University of Reykjavík students and others about the development of the New England Ocean Cluster House on the city waterfront.

Sigfusson, an Icelandic businessman and partner in the project with Soli DG president Patrick Arnold, developed the prototype four years age in Iceland which he and Arnold will follow as they draw entrepreneurs to make fuller use of the region’s marine resources and industries.

Announced last October, the New England Cluster House could be a reality by summer as Arnold and the city work on a lease for the second floor of the Portland Ocean Terminal.

“We are aggressively working to get something under construction by August,” Arnold said. A first step will be a March 25 meeting with the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee, chaired by Councilor Kevin Donoghue.

Arnold, Sigfusson and Brennan are confident an agreement can be reached, one Brennan said will determine what “the next generation of the waterfront is going to be.”

Arnold said the template is to lure entrepreneurs together, no matter what prior experience they have in marine industries.

“The only mindset people need to have is an open mind,” he said. Earlier this month, he noted at least 18 business owners have expressed interest in the cluster house.

Haarde, who is also a former Icelandic Prime Minister, was making his first visit to Maine, but noted the city has already attracted Icelandic interest in the form of Eimskip, which moved its container ship operations to Portland two years ago.

“I see great opportunities and unexplored possibilities,” he said of the venture.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Icelandic U.S. Ambassador Geir Haarde, left, and U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Robert Barber address a gathering Tuesday at the Portland Custom House to welcome a business venture between the countries involving maritime industries. Work on the New England Ocean Cluster House could begin in August.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, left, and Icelandic businessman Thor Sigfusson discuss the New England Ocean Cluster House at a Tuesday reception. Brennan said the business venture will determine the “next generation of what the Portland waterfront is going to be.”

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.