Office building proposed for West Commercial St. in Portland

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PORTLAND — A local development company hopes to build a three-story office building on a vacant stretch of Commercial Street west of the Casco Bay Bridge.

Vincent Veroneau, president and chief executive officer of J.B. Brown & Sons, on Monday said the proposal is generating interest from potential tenants. It’s too soon to say who might occupy the building, he said, but the company hopes to begin construction next summer.

Before that can happen, however, J.B. Brown must first finishing purchasing the 11-acre parcel from the Portland Terminal Co., which operates the Pan Am freight trains.

In a letter to city planners, Veroneau said the company must close the land purchase before Dec. 19. Veroneau must also secure a zone change for the property, some of which is zoned as residential.

“It is essentially impossible to obtain a serious commitment from a user on a development plan that is not allowed by the zoning ordinance,” he said in an Oct. 21 letter to the city.

Veroneau said the zone change is compatible with the city’s Comprehensive Plan. He is not seeking a zone change for a portion of land that fronts Danforth Street.

Although west Commercial Street is largely undeveloped waterfront, he said the office building would be on the inland side of the street, between the Portland Star Match Co. building – which is owned by J.B. Brown & Sons – and Benny’s Friend Clams. It would preserve the waterfront for marine uses.

“The land we are proposing to rezone does not have direct access to the Fore River,” he said.

Veroneau said construction rates remain favorable, but the project will only be built if there are committed tenants.

“We do not intend to undertake a speculative development,” he said. “We believe the land holds long-term development potential, so the acquisition of the parcel makes sense despite the current economy.”

Veroneau said that two-thirds of the 60,000- to 70,000-square-foot building would have to be under contract before construction could begin. If the project fills up, the company would like to build two smaller office buildings on the same site, according to planning documents.

Veroneau said he estimates the project would require an initial investment of about $10 million. The investment potential for the site would be between $20 million and $30 million, he said.

The Planning Board will take up the zone change request in a Nov. 8 workshop.

Based on preliminary feedback, Veroneau said he is cautiously optimistic the project will move forward.

“It’s a convenient location for access to both downtown and the highway,” he said. “You have the best of both worlds: suburban access on the peninsula.”

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