May 27, 2010

Law firm will not seek preservation tax status

Pierce Atwood developers say design changes, such as adding windows, would not qualify as historic.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The big brick building on Cumberland Wharf is one of Portland’s oldest industrial buildings. Built in the mid-1800s to store molasses, it survived the Great Fire of Portland in 1866, which destroyed 1,500 buildings.

click image to enlarge

This photo rendering of the Cumberland Self Storage building on Commercial Street shows what it would look after a renovation for office use by the Pierce Atwood law firm. The firm says the ground floor would be reserved for marine use, and conform with Portland’s waterfront zoning.

Yet the developers who want to renovate what is now the Cumberland Self Storage building into law offices – and are seeking a $2.8 million tax break from the city – have decided not to pursue historic-preservation tax incentives.

The developers concluded that the project wouldn’t qualify, for several reasons, including their plan to add numerous windows on the side of the building that faces the water, said Chris Pachios of Waterfront Maine, which owns the building.

The spectacular view of Portland Harbor is one of the main attractions for the building’s primary tenant, Pierce Atwood.

Pachios spoke Wednesday evening during a meeting with the public at DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant. He said he would not answer further questions on the subject.

The federal government provides a 20 percent income tax credit for certified rehabilitation of historic structures. The state offers a similar program.

Although the developers don’t plan major changes to the exterior of the five-story building, the design calls for some modern elements.

There would be a new entrance with a glass facade extending to the top of the building. The facade would jut out from the building by 18 inches to 2 feet.

The ground floor would be reserved for marine use. The six lobster boats that now are tied up on the wharf would be allowed to remain.

The developers say they will create a “designated marine zone” about 5 to 6 feet wide along the edge of the wharf so lobstermen can store gear.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on the tax break on June 7.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing the next day and decide whether the project meets the city’s site plan and zoning requirements. The board must also decide how much parking space the developers should set aside.

The plan appears to conform with the city’s waterfront zoning, which requires that ground floors of buildings be reserved for marine use, said Planning Board Chairman Bill Hall. At a board meeting Tuesday, the four members who attended voiced support for the project.

Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director, said the project would preserve marine uses while creating income for the owner to maintain the wharf. “This project is going to strengthen and reinforce the working waterfront,” he said.

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

tbell@pressherald.com

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