By Carol McCracken
The news that the construction of a megaberth as part of the planned renovations to the Maine State Pier has been scrapped was announced at a press conference this morning at City Hall. Rather, plans to build the megaberth will proceed substantially before the redevelopment of the Pier itself starts. Olympia Cos., the contracted Pier developer, might not build the megaberth afterall. Councilor Cheryl Leeman, chairwoman of the city’s community development committee, announced that an additional RFP might have to be issued by the city to build that megaberth separately.
Another surprising admission was that the city will give a 75- year lease to Olympia Cos. on the project. It’s hoped that this long lease would make it easier for the developer to obtain the financial support needed for the PIer’s redevelopment. It adds fuel to the speculation that Olympia Cos. is having difficulty funding the project, despite claims to the contrary by developer Kevin Mahaney, present at the press conference.
The reason given for peeling off the construction of the megaberth from the rest of the project is that the megaberth is fully permitted and ready to be built – within 18 – 22 months said Chairwoman Leeman. Perhaps one more indication that there is a long process ahead for the city in getting the permits from the State necessary to complete the project. The city and state are at odds over which entity owns the sea bed under the Pier; a controversy which might have to be resolved in court if the two parties are unable to resolve it on their own.
Chairwoman Leeman said she has been involved in many contract negotiations for the city, but this one is unique. “All parties want the best product for the city,” she said. “And that’s what we have here.” Leeman also cited the many advantages to the city of this redevelopment of the Maine State Pier – including tax relief for the residents of Portland.
Just prior to the press conference, Geoffrey Wood, president of the Portland Chamber of Commerce restated its position since the start: “We are remaining neutral in this. We just want to see the redevelopment get done as quickly as possible.” Also attending the press conference was former city councilor Will Gorham who supported Ocean Properties in the selection process. He testified at a city council public hearing as to the possible financial instability of Olympia Cos. Dory Waxman, lobbyist for Ocean Properties and a candidate for city council was also present. The much anticipated and well-attended press conference was held at the City Hall on Friday morning, August 8th.
The community development committee meets again on Monday, August 11, to address the possible reissuing of a RFP for construction of the megaberth and other matters.