By Carol McCracken
In a stunning move that left some still puzzled, Ocean Properties withdrew from negotiations with the City of Portland to redevelop the Maine State Pier on the waterfront at the base of Munjoy Hill. At a hastily arranged news conference this morning, Mayor Jill Duson read from a prepared statement: “The city is disappointed but we accept Ocean Properties decision not to go forward with negotiations on the Maine State Pier. We understand that due to existing commitments and the proposed timeline of the development process, they cannot participate in the Maine State Pier rehabilitation project.”
Attorney Harold Pachios speaking for “OP” said the decision not to go forward was a business decision. Since the selection process began and OP was not selected to redevelop the Pier, it has invested itself and its human resources in other developments around the country. Pachios went on to say that OP is a family run business. The family met earlier this week and he was notified yesterday afternoon of the family’s decision not to go forward with the City. He also said it had nothing at all to do with the company’s ability to secure financing for the project. The company is in a unique cash position. “It’s simple. That’s it,” he said emphatically several times.
The Mayor said that this situation was certainly a setback for the development of the Pier, but “not the end of the story.” In the meantime, she asked the city manager to provide the city council with a list of its options for the Pier for its next meeting. According to the city manger, Joe Gray, the city invested only a minimum amount of money in costs, and he had no ballpark figure of that this morning. It had been anticipated that it would cost $18 million to restore the Pier.
Following the news conference councilor John Anton said he found no fault with OP’s decision to withdraw. “In these economic times, people would do better to buy real estate rather than to build projects such as this.” Asked whether the expected stimulus package from the new administration could be applied to this project, Anton responded: “Everyone has spent the new stimulas package at least ten times.” Anton supported Olympia Cos.
Councilor David Marshall said: “I was in opposition to negotiating with OP due to its track record in doing business with muncipalaties. In Hollywood City, Florida, OP did not return city phone calls and canceled meetings which tied up development of the waterfront. This development will give the residents of Portland a real chance to tell us what they want on the waterfront. It will be a citizen-driven process.”
City councilors and others attending the news conference expressed surprise at these developments. There was no indication this was about to happen – raising speculation in some quarters as to the real reason for this sudden withdrawal by OP. In fact, Mayor Duson said that the city’s negotiating team had already had preliminary meetings with the OP team recently.
In the meantime, Mayor Duson said that the series of public meetings scheduled for January 29 and January 31 at Ocean Gateway have been canceled.