p-mainestatepier-010709 Ocean Properties gets its chance at pier

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PORTLAND — The city is expected to move swiftly in negotiations with a New Hampshire-based company for redevelopment of the Maine State Pier, while simultaneously setting up a series of public input sessions.
City Councilors voted 7-2 Monday night in favor of negotiating with Ocean Properties LLC, more than a year after the developer was narrowly passed over for the project in favor of The Olympia Cos. The city terminated its talks with Olympia in November.
City Councilors Cheryl Leeman and Nick Mavodones, along with City Manager Joe Gray, will be the lead negotiators for the city. Jamie Broder, an attorney who served as outside counsel during the talks with Olympia, may also take part.
The city will set up a series of public meetings this month and in February to gather input about what the public wants to see in the design and elements of the city-owned pier. The pier, which is 1,000 feet long and provides berths 30 feet deep, is more than 80 years old and in disrepair.
As part of the terms of agreement for redevelopment of the property, Ocean Properties would have to put approximately $18 million into fixing the structure. In return, the developer would be able to build a more than $100 million waterfront complex expected to include a hotel, office building, retail and restaurant space, a park and cruise ship facilities.
Portsmouth, N.H.-based Ocean Properties was founded by Bangor native Tom Walsh and is the largest family-owned hotel operator in North America, according to company legal adviser Harold Pachios.
Pachios said at the council meeting that Ocean Properties never lost interest in the project and that the company is committed to listening to and interacting with the public during the negotiations.
The competition between Ocean Properties and The Olympia Cos. lasted much of 2007 and generated a great deal of public interest. The city set up a series of public hearings with both developers, which hundreds of people attended. The developers also conducted their own public outreach and marketing campaigns, meeting with neighborhood groups and setting up displays at public events.
Despite that history, a group of residents on Monday night argued that the process has lacked public involvement and should be designed by citizens without profit as a motive.
Matt Isgro of Portland said the city should stop the development process completely and hold an “open space” meeting in order to “harness the creative energy of a large group.” He also questioned the acceptance of campaign funds from Ocean Properties principals and supporters of the developer by some councilors.
Councilors Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall voted against the negotiations with Ocean Properties. Marshall argued that rezoning of the pier had been rushed. Donoghue said that while he supported Ocean Properties in terms of qualifications, he does not support the design included in the company’s final submission from June 2007.
“I can’t vote for this tonight, but I might be pleased with the results after the public process,” Donoghue said.
The city is expected to schedule the first public input session by the end of this week. More information will be posted on the city Web site, portlandmaine.gov.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net.