Law firm, landlord will pay to move Portland waterfront bait company

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PORTLAND — Despite objections from some working waterfront proponents, a prominent law firm and the owner of the waterfront building it plans to occupy will be allowed to pay the city to move a nearby bait operation.

The Portland Fish Pier Authority and the Portland Fish Exchange on Monday approved a deal to move Dropping Springs Bait Co. further down the city-owned Fish Pier, away from the building Pierce Atwood plans to move into next year.

Pierce Atwood and Waterfront Maine, which owns the former storage building that will house the law firm, agreed to pay $62,000 up front to build Dropping Springs a refrigeration building toward the end of the Fish Pier, next to the Exchange.

Over the course of five years, at a rate of $20,000 a year, the law firm and Waterfront Maine will pay off the remaining cost of moving the bait company through a Marine Use Fee. The total cost is estimated to be nearly $133,000.

Some of the relocation money will also come from selling four refrigerator trailers used by Dropping Springs, which will be replaced with the new refrigeration building.

As part of the deal, a net-stretching area – or “net yard” – used by fishermen for net work and mending, vessel loading and unloading, and processing will be moved slightly toward the Waterfront Maine property.

The deal will essentially restrict development on the Fish Pier closest to Pierce Atwood’s offices, in exchange for the Marine Use Fee. Waterfront Maine and Pierce Atwood are locked into the fee at $20,000 annually for at least seven years, and it can be extended to the year 2045, when the lease between Pierce Atwood and Waterfront Maine expires.

The payment increases in 2016 to $22,000 and goes up incrementally after that, reaching more than $35,000 in 2045.

In June, Waterfront Maine received approval from the city to turn its property into offices. Shortly after that, Pierce Atwood raised concerns with the city about the location of Dropping Springs.

While Fish Pier Authority officials said the deal with Dropping Springs needed to be reworked because the bait supplier was in an emergency egress – a fact overlooked when the original lease was drafted – others argued the shuffling of the bait company and the restriction of development on the Fish Pier are simply to protect Pierce Atwood’s view.

“This is all for the benefit of a view corridor for a law firm,” said John Norton, president of the Cozy Harbor seafood processing company, which leases space at the fish exchange. “You’re taking all of the developable land on the fish pier and giving it to a (law) firm. You’re taking it away from the Portland fish and seafood industry. The industry has needs that don’t mesh with those of high-class office tenants.”

Ed Bradley, of Vessel Services chandlery, which is located on the pier, asked if the city had discussed charging Pierce Atwood for the view easement.

“It’s not a view easement,” replied Mary Costigan, an attorney for the city. “It’s a marine use fee.”

Meeting jointly on Monday, a majority of the Fish Pier Authority board members and Fish Exchange board members endorsed the deal, saying it provides money to the exchange while ensuring the net yard stays in place.

“The upside is, this offers fiscal stability for the years ahead,” said Assistant City Manager Pat Finnigan, a member of the Fish Exchange board. She said the Fish Pier has been financially strapped in recent years, due to the decline in groundfish landings in Portland.

Fish Exchange Board Chairwoman Katie Varian voted against the amended lease and agreement. She said she did not want the exchange to have to wait five years to collect all of the money it will cost to move Dropping Springs.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or