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Seafood company eyes 3-year lease at Maine State Pier in Portland

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Seafood company eyes 3-year lease at Maine State Pier in Portland

PORTLAND — The City Council's Community Development Committee on Wednesday will consider a three-year lease agreement with Ready Seafood for space at the Maine State Pier.

Greg Mitchell, city economic development director, said the proposed lease would cost Ready Seafood $100,000 a year over the next three years. The company would get berthing space in front of the pier and 10,000 square feet of space in the southern-most, waterfront portion of the Portland Ocean Terminal.

Also, 10 parking spaces near Compass Park would be included for the company's 22 employees, half of whom are usually at work at any time during Ready's 24-hour operation.

Ready Seafood is now based behind Becky's Diner on Hobson's Wharf. But Mitchell said the lobster processing company's lease is about to expire and the city has been working with Brenden and John Ready, of Cape Elizabeth, to find a new, albeit temporary, location so their business can remain in Portland.

"They need to leave (Hobson's) and they need additional space to support growth and remain in Portland," Mitchell said. "We worked with them to see how we could find them a new location in Portland along the waterfront, and couldn't find any (other) locations for space that would support their growth."

The Ready brothers have been fishing their lobster traps from their own boats in Casco Bay since they were children. The brothers, who have business degrees, began Ready Seafood after John Ready won a $60,000 business plan competition. Since opening on Portland's waterfront in 2004, the company has grown into a $10 million business that buys lobsters from local fishermen and ships them throughout the country. 

The brothers also operate a business called Catch a Piece of Maine, where customers essentially buy a lobster trap and can follow the performance of that trap by logging onto the company's Web site. Customers are guaranteed a minimum of 52, 1 1/2-pound lobsters; 13 pounds of steamer clams; 13 pounds of mussels, and 52 servings of Maine-made desserts annually. 

John Ready, who specializes in sales, said the company is exploring all of its options for permanent space on the waterfront. He said his brother, who handles other aspects of the company business, is out of town and couldn't readily comment on the terms and conditions of the proposed lease.

Mitchell said the CDC met in executive session last month to discuss the proposal and directed city staff to negotiate a lease with the company. 

Councilor Dan Skolnik, who is a member of the CDC, said he supports the proposal, based on the information distributed at the Oct. 14 meeting. 

"I certainly think that if we have opportunities to spur business on the working waterfront, as well as use some city property that is currently not generating any revenue, then that's a win-win," Skolnik said.

The city has been grappling with what to do with the 85-year-old pier since 2006, when at the suggestion of City Manager Joseph Gray the property was rezoned to allow non-marine use, under the condition that a developer would invest millions of dollars in needed repairs. The rezoning was spurred by developer Ocean Properties, which showed interest in redeveloping the pier.

Ocean Properties and competitor The Olympia Cos. submitted proposals in February 2007, and for several months engaged in a public battle to win the right to build a hotel, office building and retail and restaurant space on the pier and abutting land.

Olympia won the project in December 2007, but the city and the developer were unable to negotiate an agreement.

Following termination of negotiations with Olympia last December, the city quickly decided to negotiate with Ocean Properties. But that process never got off the ground; Ocean Properties pulled out in January.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net