Portland City Council approves Immucell tax break, Reed School conversion

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PORTLAND — Immucell’s expansion in the Riverside Industrial Park will get a city tax break without requirements for construction hiring.

City councilors on Monday approved the tax increment and credit financing to provide $375,000 for 12 years for the biotech company’s expansion.

Both decisions were opposed by Mayor Ethan Strimling.

“I expect (public) money will be spent in a way that upholds the values of the city,” Strimling said about the TIF agreement that will not have provisions he had hoped to add for local hiring and prevailing wages.

Councilors also authorized City Manager Jon Jennings to negotiate with developer Kevin Bunker for sale of the former Thomas B. Reed Elementary School at 19 Libby Ave. Bunker intends to convert the building to a school for children with special needs.

The meeting agenda was relatively short, but the meeting itself approached three hours as councilors and the public discussed the TIF agreement and Reed School proposal.

During the public comment session unrelated to agenda items, councilors were also presented two petitions from Munjoy Hill residents urging the city to prevent development on Sheridan Street that would block any views from nearby Fort Sumner Park.

Amendments discussed, but never formally proposed to the Immucell TIF from Strimling and Councilor Jon Hinck, would have required builders of the 12,600-square-foot manufacturing facility to devote 25 percent of the project labor to people who have lived in the city for at least 30 days.

Concurrently, if possible, but separately if needed, the contractors would have had to devote 25 percent of the labor hours to workers who belong to protected classes referenced in the Maine Human Rights Act; are considered disadvantaged in terms of income, educational or living status, or are military veterans.

Hinck’s amendment would have required construction to meet city “green building” codes, which he said Monday was redundant because of current TIF requirements.

Strimling decided against presenting his amendments after Councilor David Brenerman, chairman of the council Economic Development Committee, said the committee would consider whether the requirements should be added to the city TIF policy.

There is no schedule for when the committee will discuss the proposed revisions, although Strimling and Brenerman said it will not likely occur before a new council session begins in December.

The TIF also drew fire from opponents who called it another form of corporate welfare. West Street resident John Penrose and Orlando Delogu, a University of Maine School of Law emeritus professor and columnist for The Forecaster, said the cost of returning taxes based on increased valuations to Immucell for its estimated $3 million expansion would be borne by city taxpayers.

The agreement returns 65 percent of the taxes based on the increased valuation for 11 years, and 35 percent of the increase in the last year of the TIF.

Councilor Justin Costa said he was frustrated by the TIF argument, especially because Immucell is adding high-tech jobs with the expansion.

“I hate TIFs because they are so easily misunderstood and mischaracterized,” he said, adding the TIFs are the only method allowed by the state to encourage businesses to relocate or expand.

Reed School

Bunker, the principal at Developers Collaborative, said it was unusual for him to pursue a non-housing project, especially at a former school.

“What we wanted to do was sit down with the neighborhood and work out a deal that was acceptable to everyone,” Bunker said about his second effort to purchase the former school.

This time, Bunker expects to welcome Children’s Odyssey, now at 110 Davis Farm Road, as the new tenant.

School co-director Susan McCormick said the developmental preschool offers four classes each mornings and afternoons, for more than 50 children.

“What we would like to do is enhance the space for the children we currently have,” she said. The school expects to expand services to infants and toddlers and could be used for before- and after-school programs for children in the Riverton area.

Developers Collaborative and Community Housing of Maine answered the second city call for requests for proposals. The first round, which had two housing proposals from the same organizations, was rejected after neighborhood residents opposed turning the school into housing.

Bunker converted the former Nathan Clifford School to market-rate housing and is turning the former St. Josephs’ Convent into affordable senior housing.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Immucell President and CEO Michael Brigham, foreground, listens to Portland City Council discussions of a tax break for his company Sept. 19 at City Hall. Standing are members of local trade unions who favored hiring requirements that were eventually left out of the TIF agreement.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.