PORTLAND — The owners of One Monument Square say they are angry that the city has lured away their tower’s anchor tenant, Pierce Atwood, to new offices on the waterfront.

The city, which in June gave Maine’s largest law firm a tax break for the project, sealed the deal Monday with a lease agreement that moves a bait company away from the new headquarters and protects views of the Fore River from the building.

If One Monument Square’s owners cannot find new tenants for the space, they will seek an abatement to lower their property tax bill, which now amounts to more than $300,000 a year, said Bill Finard, whose family has owned the 10-story tower since it was built in 1970.

“I would absolutely appeal for lower taxes, and significantly lower, because of a significant drop in income,” he said.

The law firm now has 175 employees in the top six floors of One Monument Square.

City officials said Tuesday that they still believe they made the right decision to give Waterfront Maine a $2.8 million tax break to convert the Cumberland Cold Storage warehouse on Commercial Street into office space for Pierce Atwood.

City Councilor Cheryl Leeman said the city began discussions with Pierce Atwood only after the law firm made it clear that it planned to leave One Monument Square and move to a new building in South Portland.

“They could have been moving out,” Leeman said. “Now they are moving down the street, and they are going to bring business to that area.”

Councilor John Anton said Finard raises a valid concern because the Cumberland Cold Storage project creates no new jobs in the city.

Still, he said, the tax break is defensible because it will fill an empty building with people, and the converted warehouse will serve as a “gateway” to the waterfront.

Finard and his son Todd Finard decided to go public with their frustration after the boards of the city-run Portland Fish Pier and the quasi-municipal Portland Fish Exchange approved lease terms Monday to move the bait company about 200 feet away from the Cumberland Cold Storage building.

The terms also prevent any development that would block waterfront views from the building. The agreement creates a “historic marine use area,” for an asphalt area near the building that fishermen use for repairing nets and off-loading fish.

The agreement puts the area off-limits to development but allows fishermen to keep using the area to mend their nets.

With their vote at a joint meeting on Monday, the boards satisfied the last outstanding conditions of the lease agreement between Pierce Atwood and Waterfront Maine.

“All the contingencies have been removed, and we are moving forward,” said Pierce Atwood spokesman Christopher Batio. Construction is expected to begin within the next few weeks.

Todd Finard, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he was appalled by the way the boards were “steamrolled” by city officials to approve the deal.

“I know I need to find another tenant to anchor Monument Square now, but I never thought I would have to compete with the city of Portland in my effort to stabilize my asset in this economy,” he said.

Moving Pierce Atwood’s 175 employees to the waterfront will hurt many businesses in the downtown area around One Monument Square, Finard said.

It will cost an estimated $132,000 to move Dropping Springs, a bait company that set up operations in May near the Cumberland Cold Storage building.

Pierce Atwood complained about the company’s noisy freezer trailers and their potential for blocking waterfront views from the law offices.

Under the agreement approved Monday, Pierce Atwood and Waterfront Maine will contribute $50,000 toward the purchase of a 1,500-square-foot cooler building to replace the freezer trailers. The building, which is expected to cost $62,000, will be quieter than the freezer trailers.

In addition, Pierce Atwood and Waterfront Maine will give the Fish Exchange $20,000 a year not to develop the remaining portion of the lot, which has been used by fishermen for 30 years as a common work area.

The Fish Exchange and the Fish Pier will pay the remaining cost of moving Dropping Springs, with money from the $20,000 annual payment.

Thomas Valleau, a member of the Fish Exchange’s board of directors, said the deal helps the cash-strapped Fish Exchange and preserves a place for fishermen to work.

He said the city didn’t really give up any development rights because nobody has proposed building anything on the site since Portland created the Fish Pier in the 1980s.

“There is a lot of common sense in what we did,” he said. “I can see what (Todd Finard’s) interest is, and it’s not a civic interest.”

John Norton, president of Cozy Harbor Seafood, which has an operation in the Fish Exchange warehouse, opposed the deal.

He said it makes more sense to locate a law firm on Congress Street, which is zoned for office space, than on the waterfront, where office workers will conflict with industrial marine businesses and force those businesses to change.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]