PORTLAND — A wharf once envisioned as a place for a high-end hotel is being turned over to a new owner who plans to keep it a part of the working waterfront.

Stephen Goodrich, chief executive officer of Powerpay, said he took control of Maine Wharf about a month ago through a lease with an option to buy. Goodrich, 54, said he intends to buy the pier property after making structural upgrades and finding new tenants.

“I’ve had a number of people ask me, ‘What are you thinking?’” Goodrich said Thursday. “I guess it’s just a romantic thing. I’ve always had an affinity for unique properties.”

Goodrich also owns Morrison’s Maine Course restaurant, which is on the pier.

Eric Cianchette put the 27,000-square-foot wharf up for sale last year after failing to persuade City Hall to allow him to build a 150-room luxury hotel, which is not allowed in the Waterfront Central Zone.

Last fall, Cianchette evicted several tenants because of concerns about the pier’s safety. Chase Leavitt and Fresh Atlantic complied with the eviction order, while Three Sons Lobster & Fish fought the eviction, ultimately losing its case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court this summer.

Maine Wharf was marketed by Malone Commercial Brokers for $3.9 million. Broker Joseph Malone said the lease with an option to buy was a faster way for Goodrich to take control of the property and begin making much-needed upgrades.

“It’s not an uncommon thing to do when a property needs a lot of work,” Malone said. “The nice part is, it’s an owner-occupied pier, so he will be a good steward of it.”

Goodrich declined to disclose the sale price, but indicated that he got a good deal on the pier, just west of the Maine State Pier and Casco Bay Lines.

Goodrich said he doesn’t have any grand plans for the pier, and that he intends only to fix structural issues — such as replacing old pilings — and to renovate some of the dilapidated buildings.

After that, he hopes to find tenants whose businesses conform to the existing zoning, which allows as much as 45 percent of the ground-floor space on the outer edges of piers to be leased for non-marine uses.

Goodrich acknowledged that many people have called him crazy for buying the pier, especially if he doesn’t plan to redevelop it to allow more money-making uses.

But Goodrich said he has proven skeptics wrong in the past, citing his makeover of the former Portland Public Market, which now houses his payment processing company, and the renovation of the Riverdam Millyard in Biddeford.

He hopes to do the same again.

“I’m sure there is some downside,” he conceded. “But I’m able to look beyond the downside and get good results on things like this.”

Kenneth MacGowan, who owns Custom House Wharf, said he is encouraged by Goodrich’s plans for Maine Wharf. But he said Goodrich has a lot of work ahead, especially since his pier is supported entirely by pilings.

“People complain about Custom House Wharf, but we’re the Taj Mahal compared to that” wharf, MacGowan said, noting that he spends $500,000 a year for repairs. “It’s a tremendous investment. And every day that investment comes in and out with the tide.”

MacGowan said it will be difficult to find a marine-related business that will allow Goodrich to recoup his investment. But he hopes that having a new player on the waterfront will compel the city to address other obstacles to growth: the need to dredge along the piers and the lack of parking.

“I think Steve is someone who has the money and the desire to make it a valuable asset,” MacGowan said. “I think he will do a good job down there. The key will be how flexible will the city be to work with him.”

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings