PORTLAND — Eric Cianchette plans to sell the Maine Wharf on the city’s central waterfront, saying he’s tired of trying to come up with a mixed-use development plan that Portland officials will approve.

“I remember my father telling me, ‘You can’t just go through life saying what you don’t want. At some point, you have to tell people what you do want,”‘ Cianchette said, and city officials “really don’t want anything.”

Cianchette, who has developed other properties in the city and owns the Portland Regency Hotel, put the wharf on the market for $3.87 million, said Joe Malone, the commercial broker who is handling the sale.

Malone said he has received “dozens of calls” about the property, which is just west of the Maine State Pier and the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal, and has set up a meeting next week between Cianchette and two prospective buyers.

The wharf’s tenants are all marine businesses, Malone said, including seafood processors, a lobster dealer and a company that sells pier equipment. Two non-marine businesses — the Flatbread restaurant and RiRa, an Irish pub — are on a parcel that was separated from the wharf property several years before Cianchette bought it, about seven years ago.

Cianchette wanted to build a 150-room luxury hotel on the wharf. But hotels are prohibited in the central waterfront zone, and two years ago the Planning Board rejected Cianchette’s request for a zoning change.

Cianchette decided against appealing to the City Council and said he would bide his time while other property owners pushed the city to relax its waterfront zoning.

The council did loosen rules for non-marine uses on the first floors of waterfront buildings. That plan is awaiting state approval.

It would allow property owners to rent as much as 45 percent of their first-floor space for non-marine uses, after they try to find marine-related tenants.

Cianchette, however, would still need a zoning change for a hotel, and he said he isn’t inclined to wait any longer.

“I’m kind of tired of the politics in the city and the lack of direction and I just don’t think our city’s headed in the right direction right now,” he said. “I’m getting too old for it. I don’t need it anymore.”

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. rejected Cianchette’s complaints, saying, “It’s unfair to make the city the scapegoat for his efforts on the Maine Wharf.”

Mavodones said the city took the “unprecedented step” of allowing Cianchette to present his plans at a City Council workshop before he had gone to the Planning Board.

“Even in the infancy of the process, we bent over backward to give him an opportunity to make his proposal,” Mavodones said. “From the beginning, we were open to his ideas.”

Mavodones said the property owners who worked with city officials on the relaxation of rules for non-marine uses never asked for rules that would allow a waterfront hotel or housing.

“That use was not consistent with the will of what a majority of the property owners on the central waterfront wanted,” Mavodones said.

Cianchette said he considered waiting to decide about selling the wharf until after November’s election — when Portland voters will elect a mayor directly for the first time in generations — to see if the city would become more amenable to development.

Many business leaders think that a popularly elected mayor will be more inclined to support business development because he or she will be more personally accountable than a mayor elected from among the nine city councilors.

But Cianchette said he felt he still faced months or years of wrangling and tens of thousands of dollars in legal and other fees.

“It just isn’t worth it anymore,” he said. “(City officials) are taking all the fight out of everyone.”

Cianchette said his frustration was exacerbated when another developer got a $2.8 million tax break from the city last year to convert the Cumberland Cold Storage building — a waterfront structure that’s also in the central waterfront zone — into offices for the law firm Pierce Atwood.

Mavodones noted that offices are permitted on upper stories of waterfront buildings.

Cianchette said the final straw was the 2 percent property tax increase that’s likely if Portland’s proposed municipal and school budgets are approved.

With homeowners and businesses still struggling, the tax increase “is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life,” he said.

Cianchette said he is close to getting the city’s approval for a 125-foot extension of the wharf — a process that he said has taken two years because of the city’s foot-dragging.

He said he would likely transfer that approval to the wharf’s new owner rather than doing the construction on his own.

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

[email protected]


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