Payment processor Wex Inc. of South Portland is hoping to relocate its global headquarters to Portland’s downtown waterfront by partnering with a developer who has placed a bid on a parcel of city-owned land across from the Ocean Gateway building.

The developer, Jonathan Cohen of 0 Hancock Street LLC, is competing for the roughly 48,000-square-foot lot along Thames Street between Hancock Street and the proposed Mountfort Street extension with a partnership formed by Portland-based Atlantic Bayside Development LLC and Jackrabbit LLC.

If Cohen’s development company is the winning bidder, it plans to work with Wex to construct a new headquarters building that would employ at least 450 Wex employees initially, with another 200 joining over time as the company grows.

The Wex headquarters would be a four-story, 100,000-square-foot building with 10,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. An adjacent parking lot at 100 Fore St. would provide up to 1,750 parking spaces for private and public use.

The Thames Street property is zoned for a maximum building height of 45 feet, with some allowances up to 55 feet.

Melissa Smith, president and CEO of Wex Inc., said that while Wex would maintain a strong presence in South Portland, having its global headquarters on Portland’s waterfront would bring tremendous value to Portland and serve as an excellent recruitment tool for the fast-growing technology company. Photo courtesy of Wex Inc.

Wex President and CEO Melissa Smith said that although Wex would continue to maintain a strong presence in South Portland, having its global headquarters on Portland’s waterfront would bring tremendous value to Portland and serve as an excellent recruiting tool for the fast-growing technology company. It broke the $1 billion revenue mark in February.

“At the end of the day, I think this is great news for both Portland and South Portland,” she said in an interview Thursday. Wex currently employs about 800 workers in South Portland.

DIFFERENT ELEMENTS OF PROPOSALS

Cohen’s company is offering $2.5 million for the parcel, while the Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership is offering considerably more at $3.1 million. Cohen, who owns AD&W Architectural Doors and Windows in Westbrook, has developed numerous properties in Maine.

The Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership is proposing a development of two mixed-use buildings with about 165,000 square feet of office, residential and retail space, along with a 382-car parking garage.

Mike Marino, the owner of Jackrabbit LLC, already owns the 144 Fore St. parcel adjacent to the Thames Street property, which would allow the partnership to combine the two properties into a larger development. Marino said that would make it easier for the city to extend Mountfort Street in the future as it would like to do.

“We have a very exciting proposal and a unique plan to incorporate the Thames Street land into a single, conceptually cohesive city block,” Jim Hanley, CEO of Atlantic Bayside, said in a written statement. “We’re looking forward to working with the city of Portland toward a developmental goal that will be great for the people of Portland and also help achieve aspirations expressed in the city’s Eastern Waterfront Master Plan.”

FULFILLING WATERFRONT GOALS

According to the city’s website, bids on the property were due by 3 p.m. Thursday. Cohen’s company and the Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership were the only bidders.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said she couldn’t comment on the proposals while they are being reviewed.

“We drafted the (request for proposals) in a way that is consistent with fulfilling the goals and vision of the Eastern Waterfront Plan,” she said in an email Thursday. “We’re excited that we got two proposals to review and we look forward to evaluating them.”

The city is expected to make its decision in June, Smith said. If Cohen’s bid wins, it would take about two years for the project to be completed, she said.

The proposed Wex headquarters building would stand across the street from the Ocean Gate cruise ship terminal, whose roof is in the foreground of this concept rendering. Rendering courtesy of Wex Inc.

Portland officials announced they were interested in selling the property, which is now a parking lot, in January and sought citizen input through a public hearing.

The neighborhood has seen some controversial development since a comprehensive plan was adopted in 2004. Last year, the city approved a master plan for the redevelopment of the nearby former Portland Co. complex after several residents objected to the scale of the project and said it does not conform to the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan. The developer, CPB2, is proposing to build a 10-acre project that includes retail, housing, restaurants, offices and a marina over the span of about a decade.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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