Ocean Properties likely to get chance at Maine State Pier
PORTLAND — A year ago, Ocean Properties narrowly missed a chance to redevelop the Maine State Pier when the City Council decided to negotiate with another developer.
On Jan. 5, the company led by Bangor native Tom Walsh will likely get a second chance at the $100 million waterfront project.
City councilors on Monday reached consensus during a workshop meeting to negotiate with Ocean Properties for redevelopment of the city-owned pier. Workshops are informal and no votes are cast, but a majority of the council expressed support for Ocean Properties and Mayor Jill Duson said she plans to have the council vote on the issue at its Jan. 5 meeting.
The company, according to City Manager Joe Gray, has met with city officials and is still interested in the project.
The Ocean Properties proposal for the pier is similar to the one proposed by The Olympia Cos., the developer originally selected for the project. It includes an office building, hotel and public space.
Gray said the city would negotiate with Ocean Properties based on its final proposal in the original competition.
He presented the council with three options Monday for how to proceed with the pier. The option the council is likely to select – beginning talks with Ocean Properties – would also include a community workshop process where the city and developer would gather feedback from the public about design of the pier.
City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who supported Olympia in the vote a year ago, said Monday that he supports moving forward with Ocean Properties and urged the council to "embrace public involvement." He dismissed the other two options before the council, which were to either seek new proposals for the project or start a new zoning study.
"One could readvertise, but I don't know what we would gain from that," Donoghue said.
The city will likely use the terms and agreements it reached during the past year with The Olympia Cos. as a starting point for negotiations with Ocean Properties.
Talks with Olympia were terminated in November because the city and the developer reached an impasse. The state claims it has title to ocean floor under the city-owned pier; the city disputes this claim. Olympia said that as long as the title is in dispute, the company did not feel comfortable moving forward because it could only get a 30-year lease.
The city has said it will file a lawsuit against the state in January in an attempt to clear the title.
If it reaches an agreement with the city, Ocean Properties would be responsible for fixing the dilapidated pier, which is expected to cost as much as $18 million.
Councilors Monday also expressed support for re-examining whether the developer should finance construction of a cruise ship "megaberth" at the nearby Ocean Gateway terminal as part of the deal. Councilor John Anton also suggested the city explore whether Ocean Properties should take over some or all waterfront operations at the pier and Ocean Gateway. The company runs ferry operations in Key West.
Also at Monday's workshop, newly elected Councilor Dory Waxman said she plans to participate in discussions and voting concerning Ocean Properties. Waxman worked as a community organizer for Ocean Properties last year when the company and Olympia were competing for the right to develop the pier.
Because she was paid by the company, some councilors and members of the public have questioned whether Waxman should participate in Ocean Properties-related council business. She said Monday that she hasn't worked for the company in 14 months.
"I've talked with (city) corporation counsel and outside counsel and they've directed me that I do not have a conflict of interest here," Waxman said.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.