Ocean Properties pulls out of pier deal
City going “back to the drawing board”
By Chris Busby
In a surprise announcement this morning, city officials said Ocean Properties has decided not to pursue negotiations for the redevelopment of the Maine State Pier. Portland City Manager Joe Gray has been asked by the Council to draw up a list of other options for the pier’s future, which will be presented to the Council next month.
In a statement read during today’s press conference at City Hall, Mayor Jill Duson said the company cited the need to dedicate resources to other development projects and also cited the “proposed timeline of the [Maine State Pier] development process” as reasons not to go forward.
That explanation still left some councilors scratching their head. Less than two weeks ago, when the Council voted to formally begin negotiations with OP, the company was apparently enthusiastic to move its $100 million mega-project forward.
Duson said the “timeline” she referenced is the span between the fall of 2006, when the city issued a request for development proposals, and today. However, the company surely understood the implications of that timeline last week.
“The timeline I know about is, 11 days ago they were standing in front of the City Council saying they were ready to go and we voted to go with them,” said Councilor John Anton. “Eleven days later, it appears all the work they’ve been taking on in the past year stands in the way of moving forward. Those are the two statements I have, and it’s hard to reconcile them.”
“What changed?” Anton added. “I have no idea.”
There was a significant Council decision made between last week’s vote and today that has implications for the development’s timing. As The Bollard reported Jan. 8, councilors held a closed-door meeting after last Monday’s vote during which they decided not to give OP a copy of the master development agreement (MDA) the city hammered out over the course of several months negotiating with rival developer The Olympia Companies.
It’s perceived that having access to the MDA would have significantly sped up the negotiation process. Some sources inside City Hall have said OP essentially wanted the same deal the city was apparently willing to grant to Olympia. By doing little more than substituting OP’s name for Olympia’s in the new MDA, talks between the parties could have been wrapped up in a matter of weeks. Negotiations to craft a substantially new agreement could have gone on much longer.
Attorney Harold Pachios, who’s been representing the company on this deal of late, dismissed that idea. “I don’t think [OP] ever thought it would be quick and easy,” he said.
City Councilor Dave Marshall, who voted against entering into talks with OP last week, said today’s announcement creates an opportunity to do what he and others have been urging all along: allow the public to decide what to do with the publicly owned pier.
“Now the Council has an opportunity to ask Portlanders what they’d like to see on their pier,” Marshall said.
The pier is still in need to repair, Duson said. “Now we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how” to fix it, she said.