PORTLAND – Unable to find marine-use tenants for the ground floor of the waterfront building that houses the Pierce Atwood law firm, the owner received city approval Tuesday night to lease some of the space for non-marine uses, including a restaurant.

It’s been three years since the owner of the former Cumberland Cold Storage building on Merrill’s Wharf received a $2.8 million city tax break to convert the structure into office space for northern New England’s largest law firm and to meet a then-city requirement that the entire ground floor be reserved for marine-related uses.

Since then, Pierce Atwood has moved into the upper floors of the giant, 100,000-square-foot building, but marine-related tenants have been difficult to find, the owner said Tuesday.

“It’s unfortunate, but in a sense it speaks to how the working waterfront has changed,” said Patrick Carroll, a Portland landscape architect who spoke on behalf of the building’s owner, Waterfront Maine.

On Tuesday, Portland Planning Board members approved an amendment to Waterfront Maine’s site plan that will allow ground-floor leasing to be divided into 55 percent marine use and 45 percent non-marine use.

This puts the site plan in line with a change in city waterfront zoning approved in 2011, which allows the 55 percent-45 percent ratio in waterfront buildings, provided owners first try to market all of the space for marine uses.

Planning Board members also reviewed the project’s original parking plan, which calls for 191 spaces on- and off-site, and determined the parking is sufficient to meet the new ground-floor lease arrangements.

No one from the public spoke against the site plan change, which was recommended by city staff.

Carroll said Waterfront Maine has aggressively marketed the Commercial Street property without much success.

He said two potential marine tenants, including the Maine Island Trail Association and a company that makes gear and clothing for fishermen, were turned away after the city told them they did not meet the definition of a marine-related use.

Jack Soley, a member of the Planning Board, noted that there is vacant marine-related space all along Commercial Street. Rents are too high and parking is inadequate, Soley said.

“I don’t think we have done a good job of creating a waterfront zone,” Soley said. “It’s clearly not working and it is frustrating to see this.”

Soley and other members of the Planning Board said they were glad to see the former Cumberland Cold Storage building being used.

The five-story brick building was built a century and a half ago to store rum and molasses. The building was sold to Waterfront Maine in 1986.

Carroll said a small sit-down restaurant will move into some of the ground floor space this fall.

Co-owner Justin O’Connor, who attended the meeting, said the restaurant will be called the King’s Head, but he declined to go into more specifics until the restaurant opens.

 

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com