PORTLAND – Pierce Atwood, northern New England’s largest law firm, appears poised to leave One Monument Square, the 10-story downtown building it has occupied since the 1970s.

The firm is considering moving, possibly out of Portland, and will make a decision in the next two or three days, said Frank O’Connor, a real estate broker for Pierce Atwood. Its lease at One Monument Square will expire at the end of March 2011.

The company that owns One Monument Square recently began looking for new tenants for the six floors that Pierce Atwood now occupies.

City officials have been negotiating with representatives from Pierce Atwood in recent days. City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who chairs the council’s Community Development Committee, said her committee will talk with officials from the firm on May 12 about how the city can help Pierce Atwood stay on the Portland peninsula.

“There are 175 employees at Pierce Atwood, and the city is working to keep those employees here in our downtown area,” Leeman said. “It’s really important we do whatever we can to help them stay here. The economic impact is huge.”

The city has given tax breaks to developers in the past to make real estate deals financially feasible or attract investment to certain parts of the city, such as Bayside and the waterfront.

O’Connor declined to name any locations, but confirmed that the law firm is considering moving to 258 Commercial St., a five-story brick building next to the Portland Fish Exchange. Except for a few small tenants, the building is now occupied only by Cumberland Self Storage.

If Pierce Atwood decides to buy or lease the building, it will be the first time that a large company has established professional offices on the Portland Harbor side of Commercial Street.

The building, on a pier across from Union Wharf, would need extensive renovations. Most of it has no plumbing, and its windows are filled in with concrete. There are 117 parking spaces on the lot.

Several lobster boats are berthed along the pier. City zoning requires that the first floor of buildings in the area be reserved for marine use, but the upper floors could be used for office space.

The building would require so much interior renovation that it would essentially be made into a new building, said Morris Fisher, president of CBRE/The Boulos Company, which is not involved in the deal.

“From my perspective, it would be very interesting and unique office space,” he said.

Pierce Atwood now occupies 75,600 square feet of space on the top six floors of One Monument Square, which is owned by Finard Properties of Burlington, Mass.

Finard Properties has spent several million dollars over the past five years upgrading the building, including installing new windows and resurfacing the facade, said James Harnden, a broker for Finard Properties.

Harnden said the company has begun searching for new tenants because Pierce Atwood has not given any commitment that it will stay.

“They could very well be moving,” he said. “From a landlord’s perspective, we need to be proactive and go out and market the space.”

Rick Feldman, a project manager for Finard Properties, said the company is confident that it will lease the space, although it’s unlikely to find one large tenant like Pierce Atwood.

He said the company and the city have worked together to improve landscaping at Monument Square, and the new renovation of the nearby Portland Public Library also makes the area attractive.

“It’s a Class A building in a Class A location,” he said.

Officials from Pierce Atwood declined to comment.

Coleman Burke, a New York City resident who owns the Cumberland Self Storage building, did not return phone calls or e-mail messages. The building was known previously as Cumberland Cold Storage.

Peter Macomber, a photographer whose studio is next door to the building, said Pierce Atwood would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Macomber said he has seen brick masons examining the building in recent days.

Mark White, who manufactures retail display fixtures with maritime themes, has a shop on the ground floor of the building. People from Pierce Atwood have been visiting frequently, he said. Some are examining the building, he said, while others appear to be curious office workers.

“They are coming daily now,” he said. “Something imminent is happening.”

The building is next to a large parking lot near the Portland Fish Exchange. The city-owned lot, known as “the desert” among fishermen, is used for spreading out groundfish nets for mending.

Jerry Leeman of Bailey Island, the captain of an 87-foot groundfish boat, said the fishermen will put up with the lawyers as long as the lawyers let the fishermen do their work.

“It’s OK as long as they don’t take up the desert,” he said. “We aren’t that huge a fleet, but we do need an area for work.” 

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

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