p-mainewharf-011409 Cianchette proposes boutique hotel for wharf

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PORTLAND — A local businessman wants to build a boutique hotel on the wharf he owns and has asked the city to support a contract zone to allow the development.
Eric Cianchette, who owns the Portland Regency and a few other Old Port properties, would replace the Maine Wharf he owns and add a hotel, restaurant and parking to the marine businesses already operating there.
His plan calls for reserving the pier level, or first floor, for marine use. Parking would be on the second floor, and there would be as many as 120 hotel rooms, a restaurant and meeting and function space on the third, fourth and fifth floors, according to local real estate broker Joe Malone.
Malone, who is consulting on the project, said Cianchette would spend as much as $10 million to replace the dilapidated pier with a new “bulkhead” pier, while also adding 75 feet to the end for berths.
“We’re proposing to drive sheet pile and then use fill,” he said, possibly including dredged material from around the pier. The building would be geothermally powered and would cost about $45 million.
The Maine Pier is behind the Dry Dock Restaurant on Commercial Street and is home to several businesses, including Morrison’s Maine Course, Three Sons Lobster and the steamship agency Chase Leavitt. Current zoning restricts non-marine uses and prohibits hotels.
But the city two years ago rezoned its own Maine State Pier to allow for mixed-use development and to pay for much-needed repairs. Cianchette is proposing the same arrangement.
“The city figured it out with their own pier,” said Malone. Cianchette has met with city officials to discuss his plan and Malone said they want to get an indication from the city that they could get a contract zone before formally applying for the project.
“We can’t spend $3,000 or $4,000 to have the council say ‘no’,” Malone said. He said by allowing a contract zone, the council has control of the project. The Community Development Committee is expected to consider Cianchette’s proposal within the next month.
While Cianchette is seeking a contract zone, there is a group of pier owners that has been meeting to discuss getting the Central Waterfront Zone rezoned to allow more non-marine uses. Malone said while Cianchette supports that group, none of those wharf owners have a specific project like Cianchette’s.
The city has been very reluctant to relax allowed uses along the waterfront, fearing it will lose the working waterfront. Pier owners, meanwhile, say the working waterfront is already disappearing and without enough marine tenants, they don’t have the funds to fix aging piers and the buildings on them.
Allowing some non-marine use, they say, would bring in revenue.

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