Monday, September 17, 2007

PRESS HERALD

Council to take initial vote on pier developer
A close vote is expected tonight, and it's possible neither proposal will win.

By TOM BELL Staff Writer September 17, 2007


The Portland City Council will vote tonight for the first time on choosing a developer for the Maine State Pier.

Two companies, Ocean Properties of Portsmouth, N.H., and Olympia Cos. of Portland, have submitted proposals to build a hotel, office building and other facilities on the seven-acre site.

Councilors say the vote will be close, and it's possible that neither developer will prevail. "We'll end up with one or the other, both or neither," said Councilor David Marshall.

A developer needs five votes to move to the next step, which is negotiations with the city for the right to lease the pier. Because only eight members are voting, a deadlock is possible. Councilor Jim Cohen has recused himself because he and Mike Saxl, a consultant for Olympia Cos., work for the same law firm.

The City Council will take up two competing orders. One is from the Community Development Committee, which voted 2-1 to recommend that the city enter negotiations with Ocean Properties. The other is an order sponsored by Marshall that the council enter negotiations with Olympia Cos.

The winner will then negotiate with City Manager Joe Gray and the Community Development Committee.

The developer will have to return to the council for approval, and that won't happen until after the elections on Nov. 6, Marshall said. There are three contested council seats.

Marshall said the election ultimately will determine what happens to the Maine State Pier.

Councilor Jim Cloutier said a deadlocked vote will likely cause one or both of the developers to drop out because uncertainty and delay are making the deal less financially appealing compared with other opportunities outside the state.

He also said economic turmoil in the financial markets may cause the developers to rethink their plans for Portland.

"If the council can't get to a decision," he said, "it's likely that the project will simply not go forward."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

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