The City’s planning board has just scheduled a hearing of the application filed by Jonathan Cohen, d/b/a 0 Hancock Street, LLC, for the construction of an office building for WEX, for September 12, 2017 at 4:30 pm at city council chambers, city hall, Portland. The proposed WEX mixed use building is located at the corner of Thames and Hancock Streets, on the Portland waterfront. The closing of the $3.3.M purchase and sales agreement has been put on the fast track and is is expected to take place on October 1, 2017 with occupancy for the payment processing company coming in 2019.
The site is currently a parking lot and this development is expected to be part of a much larger development in the area. According to the Cohen application: “The building’s main entrance will be positioned on the west end, facing Hancock Street and the retail space will be accessed from a plaza space on the east end of the building.”
An on-going source of conflict between the popular Mayor Ethan Strimling and city manager Poor Jon became crystal clear at an August 3, 2017 meeting of the Economic Development Committee. At that meeting the Mayor asked Jonathan Cohen, developer of the site “if the building would be LEED certified. City manager Poor Jon, a self-described business man, answered for Cohen: “LEED is just a plaque on the wall for which you pay a lot of money.”
The Mayor responded that “it’s important to me that we achieve the highest possible environmental standards possible.” Cohen mumbled something to the affect that he would speak privately to the Mayor on his opinion of LEED, but would say nothing publicly.
City manager Poor Jon has said he would like to see the funds from this sale go to the partial financing of the Portland Landing, formerly Amythest Lot. Mayor Strimling has said he’d like to see the funds go toward the city’s housing fund.
At the same EDC August 3rd meeting, public comment included concerns about specific parking designations for Peaks Island residents. Hill resident Maggie Wolf said that when the city has an opportunity to sell its property, the city should use its leverage to “structure environmental goals.” George Rowe, said that “63% of WEX’s revenue comes from fossil fuels and oil.” This company is joined at the hip with the fossil fuel industry he said. A family physician who did not want to be publicly identified said that so many of his low-income patients can no longer afford to live in the area. He believes that the sale of city property such as this should include a public benefit. Economic Development Committee members did not respond to any of these concerns from the public.
At its August 21 meeting, the city council approved the negotiated purchase and sales agreement for $3.3M with Cohen. Mayor Strimling was the only councilor to state that he continues to hope that developers will work to achieve high environmental standards.