February 26, 2010

Lobster seller may lease Maine State Pier


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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — It's not quite the luxury hotel that was once proposed for the site, but a huge tank to hold 100,000 pounds of live lobsters will be built on the Maine State Pier if the City Council approves lease terms.

The council will decide Monday whether to lease a portion of the large shed at the end of the city-owned pier to Ready Seafood Co. for $100,000 a year.

Although the 3,000-square-foot tank might be the closest thing to an aquarium that Portland ever sees, the operation would be strictly industrial.

The company, now located behind Becky's Diner on Hobson's Wharf, would move to the Maine State Pier and use the new facility for wholesaling, packaging, shipping and processing.

The proposal would let the city terminate the lease at any time, if it paid Ready Seafood the value of its investment on the pier.

The lobster company would use the shared loading dock on the west side of the pier for shipping and deliveries by truck. The south end of the pier would be used to take deliveries by boat.

The lease, which was negotiated in a closed meeting by the council's Community Development Committee, is a good deal for both parties, said the committee's chairwoman, Cheryl Leeman.

''It's a perfect fit for the company, and it's a perfect fit for the city,'' she said.

John and Brendan Ready, co-owners of Ready Seafood Co., told the city that they need to expand to keep up with increased demand for lobsters, which they sell throughout the United States and internationally, particularly in Europe.

The company employs 20 full- and part-time workers during its peak season, which is now, because Europeans eat a lot of lobster during the holiday season.

At 2 a.m. every day, a truck filled with lobsters goes from Portland to a trucking hub in Boston. From there, the lobsters are delivered to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for shipment around the world.

The brothers also operate a business called Catch a Piece of Maine, which lets a customer buy a lobster trap that is assigned to a lobsterman who fishes with it all season and gives the customer the catch.

John Ready said his company struggled to find a place on Portland's waterfront that could support a mega-tank, with access for large trucks and access to the water.

He said he and his brother considered leaving the city, building the facility away from the water and trucking in water and lobsters, because land is cheaper inland.

The Maine State Pier is a great location because it's large enough, allows lobstermen to make deliveries and would give his company access to cleaner, colder water for its tank, he said.

The new facility would be twice the size of the one on Hobson's Wharf.

Built in 1922, the 1,000-foot-long Maine State Pier is the longest pier in Maine. Last year, the Olympia Cos. reached an agreement with the city to build a $100 million development there with shops, a park, offices, a hotel and a ''mega-berth'' for cruise ships, generating an estimated $1 million a year in property taxes.

The developer later pulled out, citing the economic downturn.

Matt McAleney, operations manager for New Meadows Lobster on the Portland Pier, said the city is not giving any special favors to his competitor, and that the pier is a good spot for a lobster wholesaler.

He said that leasing the property makes sense for the city, although he still wishes the council had agreed on a redevelopment plan for the pier before the economy faltered.

''The city is doing whatever they can to get some revenue out of the Maine State Pier after the thing blew up in their face,'' he said. ''I had hoped for something bigger and better, but I wish them all the luck.''

Ready said his company's investment is good news for fishermen because it would open more markets for Maine lobsters. It's also good news for the city's working waterfront, he said.

''You keep hearing it's shrinking and shrinking,'' he said. ''Portland is the place we want to be.''

Staff Writer Tom Bell can contacted at 791-6369 or at:


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