PORTLAND — The son of an Australian businessman who recently went through a battle to rezone a historic church in the West End is eyeing development opportunities in Portland’s East End.
Sebastian Monsour has been talking with city councilors about possible investments along the eastern waterfront. His interests include the Maine State Pier, a city-owned property where a $100 million redevelopment project fell apart amid legal and political wrangling in 2007.
Monsour says his company, Majella Enterprises, has the financial backing to pull off a large-scale waterfront development.
Councilors who have spoken with Monsour say they have made no commitments. Mayor Michael Brennan, who will meet with the developer Friday, expressed skepticism.
Brennan said the city’s experience with the state pier showed the pitfalls of a developer-led process, rather than one guided by the city’s vision.
“I don’t want to make the same mistakes,” Brennan said. “I think the city has to do quite a bit more homework before we start to look at various proposals that might be put on the table.”
In 2007, the city received proposals for the Maine State Pier from Portland-based Olympia Cos. and New Hampshire-based Ocean Properties. In a split vote, the council chose Olympia Cos., which proposed a $100 million mixed-use village on the pier and an office building on adjacent land.
That plan fell through, and the council began negotiating with Ocean Properties. Ultimately, a dispute with the state over ownership of land beneath the pier sank the deal. That dispute has yet to be resolved.
Jed Rathband, who was a public relations consultant for Olympia Cos. and is now working with Monsour, said his client is exploring development options for six waterfront properties.
“Whatever is to be considered down there on the waterfront will be a very deliberate and considerate process,” Rathband said. “We’re merely doing some investigation about what could potentially be done down there.”
Monsour is chief executive officer of Majella Enterprises, the parent company of Majella Property Development, Majella Global Technologies and Majella Rain Forest Lodge.
His father, Frank Monsour, caused a stir in the West End when he proposed a rezoning of the Williston-West Church so he could establish U.S. headquarters for Global Majella Technologies, which is based in Australia.
The City Council granted the rezoning request in a split vote last month, after an acrimonious public hearing in which critics said the project would be out of place in the largely residential area. The Monsours are now preparing to renovate the historic church.
“We’re looking to expand into the U.S.,” said Sebastian Monsour. “As we’re expanding our (technology) business, we’re looking at expanding the whole business.”
Monsour does not own any property on the eastern waterfront and does not have any under contract. But he indicated that his company often partners with landowners, investors and commercial banks in Australia and the United States on large-scale developments.
Majella Property Development bills itself as the leading developer in southeast Queensland, Australia. The company recently started work on a nine-story, $47 million apartment complex in Brisbane, Australia. That project is expected to be complete by 2013, according to news reports.
Also in Brisbane, Monsour said the company is undertaking a $26 million project called Mountainview Residences, and developing a rain forest lodge.
Monsour has been asked to consider buying the 10 acres on the waterfront owned by Phineas Sprague Jr., said Tony McDonald, a broker with CBRE/The Boulos Co., which is listing the property.
The property at 58 Fore St., known as the Portland Company Complex, is home to several historic buildings, a 128-slip marina and 1,000 feet of deep-water ocean frontage, according to a property listing.
McDonald said there is no listing price for the property, because it could be subdivided. He said the property is zoned for marine and industrial uses. It is not in the Waterfront Central Zone so it would not be subject to stringent rules to protect fishermen.
McDonald said the city’s Eastern Waterfront Master Plan envisions redevelopment of the land under a contract zone that would allow hotels, homes and historic renovation of some buildings, which date back to 1900.
Any sale or redevelopment of the Portland Company Complex would have to preserve the marina and historic buildings, which host the Portland Boat Show and the Portland Flower Show, Sprague said.
Although he has not spoken with Monsour, Sprague said he believes the best way to develop the area is a large-scale project that conforms to the master plan.
Rathband said Monsour has met with councilors Kevin Donoghue, David Marshall and Edward Suslovic. The development team plans to continue its outreach to include other councilors, he said.
In their meetings with Monsour, Donoghue, who represents the East End, and Marshall, who represents the West End, said they emphasized the need to engage the public early in any development process.
Donoghue said his meeting with Monsour lasted only about 25 minutes, but he got the sense that Monsour is eyeing a large-scale, mixed-use development that includes event space.
Donoghue said he made no commitments to support the plan or any potential rezoning efforts.
Marshall said he met with Monsour at the Williston-West Church to ensure that developers were doing everything they could to mend the divide created by the rezoning request. He said he was surprised when the conversation turned to the eastern waterfront.
“It looked like they had a pretty ambitious project in mind,” he said. “It was a surprise to me they were that far along in the process.”
Monsour said he is in the “very, very early stages” of his investigation into the potential of the waterfront. He said the community would have a voice in any development proposal.
“We have fallen in love with the city and the state – especially my father,” Monsour said. “We want to show we can be good corporate citizens.”
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: [email protected]