The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to sell a parcel of land near the eastern waterfront to a developer with plans to construct a new office building for Wex.

Jonathan Cohen of 0 Hancock Street LLC will pay $3.3 million for the 1.1-acre lot on Thames Street, near the city-owned Ocean Gateway Terminal.

Portland’s Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said the sale will close before Oct. 1.

Councilor David Brenerman, who leads the council’s Economic Development Committee, which recommended the sale, said bringing Wex to downtown Portland would enable the city to fund a variety of services while bringing good-paying jobs downtown.

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.

“It just seems to me we should welcome a business like this to the downtown and to the waterfront,” Brenerman said.

Wex is a payment processing company that provides payment services for vehicle fleets, online travel services and health care and employee benefit providers. The company has a global workforce of 2,700 – including 800 in Maine, up from 750 a year earlier. A significant number of employees will remain in South Portland even if the Portland plan goes through.

The company has estimated that the new building would house at least 450 employees initially, with as many as 200 more joining as the company expands.

A handful of residents expressed concern about the sale. In addition to concerns about increased traffic and parking problems, several speakers questioned why the city would sell land to a business that makes most of its money off fossil fuels, especially when the city is touting efforts toward sustainability, renewable energy and confronting climate change.

Joey Brunelle, an aspiring council candidate, said the proposed development focuses too much on cars. “That’s bad for the city and bad for the environment,” he said.

Quincy Hentzel, chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber, supported the sale.

“This is a huge opportunity for the city,” she said. “We support it wholeheartedly.”

Councilors acknowledged that traffic and parking are legitimate concerns, but Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said those issues are addressed during the site plan review process.

“I am comfortable that that scrutiny and due diligence will be done around parking and traffic,” he said.

Mayor Ethan Strimling has been advocating for affordable housing on city-owned lots. But Monday, he said he was “comfortable” with the sale. He suggested that the city use some of the proceeds from the sale for its housing trust fund, which is used for affordable housing projects.

“That would be a shot in the arm,” Strimling said. “It would allow us to do some good work throughout the city.”

The city issued a request for proposals earlier this year. Only two developers responded.

Cohen’s company initially offered $2.5 million for the parcel, while the competing developer, Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership, offered $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 proposed two mixed-use buildings with about 165,000 square feet of office, residential and retail space, along with a 382-car parking garage.

Wex’s headquarters would be a four-story, 100,000-square-foot building at the corner of Hancock and Thames Street. The first floor would include 10,000 square feet of retail space as well as office space for Wex. All of the upper floors would be designated as office space for Wex.

Between 450 and 550 new surface and structured parking spaces would be within 750 feet of the Thames Street site to accommodate the company’s needs and increased demand for public parking in Portland’s East End, the city said.

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

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings