City Council Supports Pier Project – So Far..

By Carol McCracken

Late Monday night, the city council overwhelmingly passed the two motions presented to it for action by the community development committee regarding the redevelopment of the Maine State Pier by Olympia Cos. and the separate construction of a megaberth. But the vote didn’t come easily and until after 11:00 p.m. – after public testimony and lengthy posturing by some councilors.

The televised meeting also on the record was more project-friendly than had been exhibited by some city council members in the past in untelevisied and off the record meetings. For example, appreciation was expressed for the enormity of the task performed by the negotiating team composed of Councilor Cheryl Leeman, James Broder, attorney, and Joe Gray, city manager and their staffs. The sour grapes reaped over this politically charged project seemed less sour at times. Almost unanimous passage of the two motions demonstrated that.

The first motion asked the council to approve the term sheet which forms the basis for the yet to be negotiated contract between the city and Olympia Cos. – the Master Development Agreement. The vote was 7 to 1 in favor of the motion. (Councilor James Cohen recused himself again). The dissenting vote came from Councilor Dan Skolnik who took exception to the term sheet as presented. Skolnik gave the term sheet a scathing review –  calling it a “sweetheart” of a deal that would be unnecessarily costly to Portland because it gives Olympia Cos. a rent break for the first 20 years of its 75 year lease – among other criticisms.  He supported Ocean Properties over Olympia Cos. in the selection of a developer.

The second motion which passed unanimously referred the matter of the construction of a mega-berth back to the community development committee in order to consider possible options for its separate development from the Maine State Pier. It is expected that the community development committee will instruct its staff on how to proceed to achieve that goal at its next meeting.

A number of Ocean Properties supporters addressed the city council with their concerns about the term sheet Monday night.  Among them were attorney Harold Pachios, retained by Ocean Properties to “monitor the transparency of the process,” former city councilor Donna Carr and Dory Waxman, a lobbyist for Ocean Properties.

Speaking on behalf of the Portland Community Chamber, Quincy Hentzel, supported the approval of the term sheet. Last fall the Chamber made ten recommendations to the city council on points to consider in the development of the term sheet. The Chamber is pleased that many of the suggestions were incorporated in the term sheet. But Hentzel also said: “We recognize that in any negotiation both sides must give and take. We note that the timeline for construction is longer than we anticipated and the money escrowed lower than we suggested. We hope some of these issues may be better clarified when the Master Development Agreement is completed.” That is scheduled for October 24th.