Wednesday, December 11, 2013
PORTLAND – Developers are scaling back an ambitious $100 million project on Thompson's Point, trading Class A office space for the preservation of an old brick building and delaying plans for a sports arena.
The decision highlights how the project is evolving a year after it received approvals from the city.
The new development plan, which was approved by the city staff last week and will be communicated to the Planning Board on Tuesday, would allow Forefront Partners I to begin constructing a 175,000-square-foot office building on the northwest panhandle of the site this summer. The building would temporarily have a surface parking lot, rather than the 700-vehicle garage originally proposed.
Construction of the garage would be delayed until work on an event center/sports arena could begin. Until then, an outdoor recreation area may occupy the site of the approved event center.
The event center is expected to be the new home of the Maine Red Claws professional basketball team.
"The Red Claws continue to watch the progress of the planned development at Thompson's Point and anticipate being a tenant when it is completed," said Red Claws spokeswoman Jana Spaulding.
The new plan scraps plans for a concert hall in favor of an additional office building.
The first phase of the Forefront at Thompson's Point originally envisioned 558,000 square feet of office space, a hotel, a restaurant and event space. The developers recently scaled back that vision by nearly 113,000 square feet.
Chris Thompson, a partner in Forefront Partners I, said the changes -- and potentially others to come -- are for the better and maintain the original components, including a sports medicine lab. While less office space would be built, at least one historic building on the site would be preserved, he said.
"This effort was to be responsive to one of our large users," Thompson said. "We've actually made some refinements to this approved plan that will, I think, put the event center in an even better spot."
The developers say they have secured a large tenant to occupy the 175,000-square-foot office building. Thompson said he could not disclose that tenant.
South Portland-based WEX, formerly Wright Express, is believed to be eying Thompson's Point for an expanded campus.
WEX spokeswoman Trish O'Donnell would neither confirm nor deny that the company is working with developers at Thompson's Point.
"We are looking at a lot of different scenarios," O'Donnell said.
WEX has 1,427 employees worldwide, including 672 in Maine. The company continues to grow and is looking at its options to expand, O'Donnell said.
The company occupies three buildings in South Portland. Its corporate headquarters at 25 Gorham Road totals more than 72,000 square feet. The size of its facilities on Darling Avenue and Foden Road could not be confirmed Monday.
According to planning documents, Thompson's Point developers have tenants for several of the buildings, including the hotel and restaurant, but have yet to announce who they are.
Other changes in the plan are being driven by financing. The developers originally anticipated getting one loan to pay for the first phase of construction, according to planning documents. But now, each building will be financed through a separate loan.
The changes approved last week would allow the developers to reuse a brick building, rather than replacing it with a 120,000-square-foot office building.
The developers say they decided to keep the nearly 33,000-square-foot brick building in response to the wishes of a potential tenant.
Meanwhile, city officials continue to work on a deal that could further change the development plan.
The city is working to relocate Suburban Propane from its rail-side location on Thompson's Point to a city-owned parcel on Riverside Street. It's unclear how the relocation would affect the overall development plan.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Amtrak Downeaster train, has identified that parcel as one of two potential sites for a new transportation center that would include train and bus operations. The authority has also drafted plans to build the center on the other side of the tracks.
Executive Director Patricia Quinn said no final decision on the location has been made, but the authority wants better connections from Thompson's Point to other areas of Portland, including the Old Port and waterfront.
"We're excited for Thompson's Point to get off the ground," Quinn said. "Whether the (station) is located on one side of the tracks or the other is open for discussion."
The city is trying to persuade state lawmakers to pursue a $25 million bond to help pay for the project.
Thompson hinted that more changes to the Thompson's Point development plan are in the works.
"We're working on an amendment to this that ... helps us put the event center in an even better spot in relation to the intermodal transportation center," he said.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: