People who get help from the state Department of Health and Human Services are upset about the state’s plan to move the DHHS offices near downtown Portland to a site four miles away, near the Portland International Jetport.
Lisa Harmon, who has visited the offices six times in the past two months for various reasons, said she thinks the move would inconvenience many people. “When I lived in Portland, I walked here regularly,” she said. “I know a lot of people who still do.”
Harmon now lives in Westbrook, so the move wouldn’t affect her as much, but she still thinks it’s a bad idea. “This is where all the services are,” she said.
City leaders and other developers have criticized the state’s decision to select ELC Management Inc. to build and lease an 80,000-square-foot building for DHHS and Department of Labor offices on land in South Portland, next to the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport. The 20-year lease would be worth about $43 million, pending a final agreement.
DHHS offices have been on Marginal Way in Portland for the past 20 years and have been in the city even longer.
People apply at the offices for social services such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and get referrals for mental health and other services. On Marginal Way, the offices are within walking distance of most neighborhoods on Portland’s peninsula.
Kalene Gaddas lives within walking distance and said she doesn’t want to see the offices moved to the site near the airport. “Even if it’s on a bus line, you’re at the mercy of the bus schedule,” she said.
Amanda Lanigan, who has been visiting DHHS offices with her husband about three times a week for visitation with their daughter, said she’s not looking forward to the possibility of having to ride the bus to South Portland.
The state’s lease with the property owner on Marginal Way is set to expire at the end of next year and state officials say the location has become too expensive.
Earlier this year, the state Bureau of General Services requested proposals to relocate the DHHS offices, as well as the Department of Labor offices that are now on Lancaster Street, in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood. It got four proposals: two in downtown Portland (on Lancaster Street and St. John Street), one near the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and the one near the airport.
Using a scoring system that considered location, cost and other factors, the state selected the plan for the airport property, which is undeveloped.
Tom Toye, who owns two buildings on Lancaster Street that were passed over, said he was shocked by the state’s choice.
“I can’t believe that they would think the jetport (location) was better,” he said.
The Bureau of General Services provided the scoring sheet that showed ELC Management scoring highest, but the sheet includes no explanation for the scoring. For instance, the airport site scored 18 points for location, while the Lancaster Street site – in the same neighborhood as many social service agencies – got 6.5 points.
“If you look at the process, it seemed like we should have scored very high based on our location,” Toye said.
Toye’s proposal also was about $1.5 million less than the winning bid, and the state has said cost was the biggest factor. Toye said he thinks the winning bidder didn’t accurately project its costs.
He appealed the state’s decision, claiming that the scoring was arbitrary, but he was unsuccessful.
“The appeal seemed kind of laughable,” he said. “They didn’t even address any of our points.”
Another developer who bid on the project, Tim Soley of East Brown Cow Management Inc., said he was surprised that the state chose a bid that would move the offices out of downtown Portland.
The state gave strong consideration to other sites but the airport location was the best fit, said Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the state Office of Financial and Professional Regulation, which oversees the Bureau of General Services.
Even though it’s outside downtown Portland, it is on a public bus line, she said, and parking spaces would be more plentiful at the new site.
Smith said the consolidation would save the state $14 million in rent over the next 20 years and allow two departments to work together more closely.
The site is off Jetport Access Road. The land is owned by Brooklawn Memorial Park, according to the South Portland assessing office, and is valued at about $373,900.
ELC Management, owned by well-known developer Eric Cianchette, still has not acquired the land, according to the state.
The new building is supposed to be completed by late 2014 or early 2015. Cianchette did not return several calls for comment left Friday and Monday.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:
This story was updated at 2:16 p.m. on Nov. 27, 2013, to correct the ownership and value of the parcel of land in South Portland.