Portland pitches technology park plan to lure bio-tech, IT sectors

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PORTLAND — The city Economic Development Division is proposing to build a technology park on a city-owned plot on Westbrook Street.

It would be the first municipal business park in the city.

“This is the first undertaking the city has ever been involved in for the city to establish a business park,” Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said.

The project would be built on 26 acres of city-owned land and unfold in three phases, according to planning documents.

The city would build the first two phases, resulting in 1,400-linear feet of roadway, complete with utilities and stormwater systems.

Mitchell said the city currently has nearly $1.3 million to complete the first 950 feet of roadway.

Funding is being split between $660,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and $660,000 in local funds, he said. 

The development calls for seven buildings, ranging from 8,000-square feet to nearly 45,000-square feet, each of which would be financed by private developers. 

Each proposed building would need to receive site plan approval from the Planning Board, which has scheduled a Nov. 23 workshop on the plan.

Since the city is investing in the infrastructure, the buildings would likely have to obtain a silver certification from U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental & Energy Design.

Last year, the City Council adopted an ordinance requiring such certification on projects that receive $10,000 or more in city funding.

Mitchell said the city is currently marketing the business park to small- to medium-sized biotechnology and information technology businesses, sectors that do not currently have a campus in the region.

“Up to this point in Portland’s evolution, the industrial development primarily on Riverside Street has been largely led by the private sectors,” he said. “We felt the need to establish this business park to really focus on attracting bio-science type businesses.”

Mitchell said there is currently “one very serious prospect” for a tenant and the city has been in informal conversations with several others.

“We’re beginning to market it more heavily now,” he said.

Mitchell said establishing the roadways and setting up the utilities, which are extremely costly, will make the site more attractive to prospective businesses.

“It shortens the time frame and positions the city to attract investment that I would dare say we wouldn’t otherwise,” Mitchell said.

City Business Development Director Nelle Hanig said the biotechnology and information technology sectors are typically those that benefit by having a campus arrangement.

“We want to bring more high technology jobs to Portland,” Hanig said. “It seemed like a no-brainer to build a technology park, a place where these companies can come and work together, be in the same location and exchange ideas and network.”

Hanig said commercial real estate brokers have told the city the proposed location of the business park, near Exit 47 on Interstate 95, was ideally located in terms of transportation and workforce. 

The site, located just north of Westbrook Street and east of I-95, will also offer employees lunchtime recreation opportunities, since it is located next to 200 acres of protected land and trails.

About 10 acres of the site are forested wetlands and vernal pools, none of which have been identified as having “special significance” by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to planning documents

Officials hope to have the project permitted within three to six months and have the roads and utilities installed by end of 2011.

Mitchell said similar sized business parks elsewhere in the country have supported about 400 jobs, adding that he has been working with South Portland, Westbrook and Scarborough to encourage out-of-state businesses to set up shop in Maine.

The group has been touting new legislation that includes Cumberland and York counties in the state Pine Tree Zone, which makes tax incentives available to new business.

“Our goal is to bring new investment into Maine,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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