January 2, 2012

Work on Forefront expected by spring

The project's developers are still working on obtaining permits and purchasing the Portland property.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - The developers of The Forefront on Thompson's Point may have missed their target of having all the permits for the project in hand by the end of the year, but they say their $105 million mixed-used development is still on track.

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The developers of The Forefront hope to demolish the old buildings on Portland’s Thompson’s Point before spring.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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"We're getting very close" to gaining permits from city and state officials, said Jon Jennings, one of the principal partners of the development. "This is a very complex deal and there are a lot of things that have to be addressed to get to the construction phase."

The project for Thompson's Point was unveiled in April. Its developers said their timeline called for getting approvals by the end of the year, demolishing the light-industrial buildings on the peninsula this winter and starting construction by late winter or early spring.

Bill Ryan, another partner, said Thursday the timetable may have slipped, but not by much, and he still anticipates construction will begin by early spring.

"It's still going very well and we haven't had anything in the way of any kind of major roadblocks," he said. "There haven't been any obstacles, but sometimes things take longer than you think."

Jennings said the developers haven't yet purchased the 30-acre peninsula where they envision a concert hall, office buildings, a 125-room hotel, a restaurant, a sports medicine facility and 718-space parking garage. He said the partners have an option on the property "for the foreseeable future."

Jennings also said the partners have been working to get signed commitments from tenants for the office space and an operator for the hotel in order to satisfy requirements for bank financing of the project. He said the tenant commitments are "close," but none is completed yet.

Jennings declined to comment on whether the developers need commitments on all the office space that will be built or a percentage.

The hotel will be run by a company owned by Chris Thompson, the third primary partner. He said an affiliation with a chain hasn't been determined yet but will be decided soon.

The city in June approved a $31 million, 30-year property tax break for the project, which the developers indicated was needed for the financing package to work.

Both Jennings and Ryan said many of the tasks relating to permits have to be completed in a particular order, and if one step takes longer than anticipated, it can snowball to slow down the next step.

For instance, the Maine Department of Transportation has issued a draft permit for the plan to expand two off-ramps from I-295 and widen Thompson's Point Road into the facility, said Stephen Landry, the assistant state traffic engineer.

But Landry said he can't sign off on the final order until the Portland Planning Board makes its decision on the site plan for The Forefront, because the board could add conditions that would affect the road work.

In addition, the state Department of Environmental Protection delegates some of its permitting process to city officials, so that approval will also depend on the planning board's action.

The board is scheduled to hold another workshop on the project next month but hasn't set a date for a formal hearing and vote, said Bill Needleman, senior planner for Portland.

Jennings and Ryan both said the working relationship with the city has been good, but noted that some of the technical issues have taken time to resolve, such as how to align the access road and dealing with a railroad crossing at the adjacent Portland Transportation Center bus and rail station.

"There's a lot of moving pieces to the project and a lot of different elements of the project that we're working on and trying to bring to a successful conclusion," Jennings said. "The reality is there's just so many things that we deal with on a daily basis, and all of them, frankly, are positive, but you have to do this to get the project done."

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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