Lobster dealer prepped for new lease at Maine State Pier in Portland

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PORTLAND — Two years ago, John and Brendan Ready of Cape Elizabeth inked a three-year lease to operate their lobster business on the Maine State Pier.

Without any immediate plans to redevelop the pier, the city agreed to a three-year lease for 10,000 square-feet of the pier at $100,000 a year.

At the time, Ready Seafood employed 22 people to pack and ship a variety of lobster and seafood packages to customers throughout the U.S.

Now, John Ready said the company has 44 employees and operates three shifts a day, seven days a week to meet the demands of a growing global market, including customers in Europe, China and Asia.

“It’s all about bringing in money from overseas,” Ready said, during a phone interview from New Jersey, where he was meeting with a potential exporter. “Export money is great because it’s reviving our economy.”

Last week, the City Council Community Development Committee recommended a five-year extension to the lease that expires at the end of next year.

The lease would allow the company to expand by 2,000 square feet for $20,000 and includes another five-year option at the end of the contract. The rent would increase by 2 percent a year, starting in 2014.

The full council is scheduled to take up the lease on Nov. 21.

The lack of a long-term development plan for the 87-year-old pier became a focal point of the recent mayoral campaign. The city had two developers interested in the project in 2007, but problems with state regulations and the economic downturn sunk the plans.

But Councilor Cheryl Leeman, the CDC chairwoman, said the contract would not impede any future development of the pier.

“There’s always an out clause,” Leeman said. “We were comfortable with that. Not much is going to happen there until the economy improves.”

If that happens, the city would have to give the brothers 30 days notice, buy out the remainder of the lease and pay back $100,000 for  improvements the brothers have made on site.

Leeman said she’d like to see the seafood company have a permanent home on the pier.

“I can only speak for myself,” she said, “but that’s a small portion of the pier. And it would be nice actually to incorporate whatever we plan to do next with a marine-related business like (the) Ready brothers at the end.”

At a previous CDC meeting, Ready said the company would be interested in anchoring at the pier.

Ready Seafood has grown to a more than $10 million company since opening on the Portland waterfront in 2004.

The brothers also own Catch a Piece of Maine, a website where customers can buy a lobster trap, follow its performance online and receive part of the catch.

On Monday, Ready said he believes his company can help not only the local lobstermen, but the city’s economy as a whole by bringing in money from national and global clients.

“We’re really excited to put Portland on the map as the lobster capital,” Ready said. “It’s not just growing jobs, it’s bringing money in. With record landings in the lobster industry, we’ve got to do something with these lobsters.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings