State seeks proposals to replace motor vehicle office at Maine Mall in South Portland
SOUTH PORTLAND — The state is shopping for new accomodations for two Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices, including the one in South Portland.
The 10-year leases at the Maine Mall and in Calais have expired, according to the secretary of state's office. The department is requesting information and pricing from property owners who might be interested in renting space to the BMV.
The bureau has been a tenant in the mall since 1996. Since its lease expired last year, the BMV has been operating as an at-will tenant. The state pays General Growth Properties, the mall owner, $61,000 per year for the space.
Megan Sanborn, special assistant to the secretary of state, said the department would prefer to keep the BMV in South Portland, but is open to moving the office to a neighboring community. There is another BMV branch in Portland on Presumpscot Street.
"When a 10-year lease expires, we just like to take a look around," she said.
The mall BMV branch serves about 35,000 people a year, making it the second-busiest office in the state after Bangor, Sanborn said. On Wednesday, with six desks open by 8:30 a.m., there was already a 10- to 15-minute wait for service.
The 3,600-square-foot mall office is also the state's second-smallest; only Mexico's branch is smaller.
"That's one of the reasons we're looking around," Sanborn said. "That location, for the price we pay, is relatively small."
It's not a surprise the BMV is accepting offers from other property owners, said Craig Gorris, general manager of the Maine Mall. He said he's known for a while that the state would like more space, and said that whenever a tenant is in an at-will lease, their eyes are bound to wander.
Still, Gorris said he'd like to see the BMV stay in the mall. The location is unusual – tucked into a corner of the building near Macy's, with no access from inside the mall. That suits the BMV just fine, Gorris said, but would make the space hard to rent to a retail business.
“It's a good use for the center," Gorris said. "They bring in some traffic that wouldn't otherwise come in. ... They've been there since 1996, so certainly they're a valued tenant.”
Sanborn said the state is open to the idea of staying in the mall, if the price is right. There's no timetable for action, she said, and the state has only received word from only a few interested property owners.
“We're trying to look for all options and see what's the most economically fitting for us," she said. "Staying (at the mall) is one of those options."
Whatever the state decides, it may not matter much to some customers who were taking care of business at the BMV on Wednesday. They said they wouldn't mind if the branch moved, as long as it didn't go too far.
None of them said the mall is an inducement to use the South Portland office, and if anything, navigating the parking lot and occasional traffic snarls can be a nuisance.
"For me, the mall isn't a draw, though maybe it is for the retired people," said Kelley Brown, a Gorham resident who had just renewed her license. "Westbrook would be just as convenient, I guess, but not Scarborough."