Americold backs out of warehouse project at IMT in Portland

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PORTLAND — Americold will not be building a long-anticipated cold storage warehouse adjacent to the International Marine Terminal, but the future of development on West Commercial Street has not cooled. 

“We have considered regional economics, construction costs, and industry analysis, and our conclusion is that the cost to operate a state-of-the-art temperature-controlled facility on the 6.6-acre parcel of land at the waterfront does not meet Americold’s underwriting criteria,” according to a company statement issued Monday.

Americold, which operates a warehouse on Read Street, never submitted site plans for a warehouse with space for 15,000 pallets at 400 West Commercial St. The company was awarded a bid for the facility in August 2015 by the Maine Department of Transportation.

However, city councilors last September approved a package of zoning changes along West Commercial Street that increased allowable building heights from 45 feet to as much as 75 feet for conditional uses. The revisions also added cold storage as a permissible use in the area.

“I think they have looked at it from a number of perspectives, and have decided to pass on the opportunity,” city Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said Tuesday. “We want to continue to pursue it aggressively.”

A cold storage warehouse is viewed by city and state officials as critical to expanding the container-shipping business that has burgeoned at the IMT since 2013. Icelandic shippers Eimskip has made the Portland its American terminal, and the state is also moving ahead on plans to add another crane at the terminal pier to double the freight-handling capacity.

The state remains as committed as the city to getting a warehouse built, MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said.

“We are in a better position now to proceed forward with many more doors opened to us versus where we began three years ago. The project is no less important today as it was when we started,” Talbot said in an email Tuesday.

The rezoning proved a contentious process that played out for more than a year as neighbors on Portland’s West End objected to the increased building heights because of the potential loss of waterfront views.

Expanded commerce at the terminal, and the new railroad link to carry containers to and from the terminal, has also led to increased noise and light from an area where industry had been dormant for decades.

Mitchell and city Waterfront Coordinator Bill Needelman have said the focus on keeping the area a part of the working waterfront also played a role in the zoning changes, which came into full consideration when the state sought proposals for the warehouse.

The revised zoning extends along the southern side of West Commercial to Cassidy Point, and the increased building heights have also allowed Phineas Sprague Jr. to expand his Portland Yacht Services with designs better suited for marine maintenance and storage.

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

City and state officials will continue efforts to get a cold storage warehouse on vacant West Commercial Street land after Americold withdrew its plans this month.

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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.