PORTLAND — Pierce Atwood employees begin work today in their new offices in the former Cumberland Cold Storage building on Merrill Wharf.

Left behind are the commanding views of the city’s business district from the firm’s former offices in a high-rise on Monument Square. Instead, perched on a wharf adjacent to the Portland Fish Pier, staffers will have a gull’s-eye view of the city’s fishing fleet.

Several million dollars have been spent renovating the five-story building. Built a century and a half ago to store rum and molasses, it is among the largest, oldest and tallest buildings on the city’s waterfront. It’s also one of the few survivors of the Great Fire of Portland in 1866, which destroyed an adjacent sugar factory and 1,500 other buildings.

At first glance, little about the building has changed. It is still an unglamorous, industrial structure, a massive, 100,000-square-foot building that has all the grace and style of a shoebox tipped on its side.

But inside, it is a modern and elegant office building, with exposed brick walls, rock tile floors and curved glass walls dividing the hallway from conference rooms.

The architecture firm, Visnick & Caulfield Associates Inc. in Boston, worked to retain the building’s historic exterior, said Dennis Keeler, a partner in charge of facilities for Pierce Atwood. The few exterior changes include the addition of a row of six windows on the walls facing the water, but the windows are almost identical to existing ones.

Located two-thirds of the way out on the wharf, the building’s entrance is marked by granite blocks salvaged from the Million Dollar Bridge, which preceded the Casco Bay Bridge across the Fore River.

The building is longer than a football field but only 65 feet wide, creating the impression of being on a ship docked at port.

A lobby on the fifth floor features a large photograph of the city’s waterfront, taken between 1912 and 1924, that shows the building when it had only four floors and was adjacent to the old Portland Yacht Club. A large sailing ship dominates the foreground. At the time, Pierce Atwood was located at 465 Congress St., an office building also visible in the old photograph.

When Pierce Atwood moved into 2 Monument Square in 1971, it only had 15 lawyers. Today, it has 100 in Portland and a total staff of 175 to 195.

Keeler said the move will invigorate the staff and spur economic development on a section of the waterfront located just outside the thriving Old Port.

The law firm’s decision to move has already had an impact.

Last May, Bevin McNulty of Portland bought a business condominium on Commercial Street across from the Cumberland Cold Storage building. Two weeks ago, she opened Bam Bam Bakery, which offers a coffee bar and gluten-free baked goods. She arranged seating in her bakery to make it attractive for business meetings.

She said the law firm’s decision to move here played a decisive role in her decision to buy the condominium because it will bring more money and foot traffic to that end of Commercial Street.

“I’m on the edge of things, not on the outskirts,” she said.

Meanwhile, businesses on Monument Square will feel the law firm’s absence. The building now has 83,626 feet of office space for lease.

Keeler said the waterfront setting makes for a unique neighborhood.

“This is what Portland is,” he said. “You can have a high-rise office anywhere. But you can’t have an historic waterfront building in many places.”

The City Council last year agreed to give a $2.8 million tax break to the owners of the building after the law firm threatened to move to South Portland.

The city’s waterfront zoning requires that 55 percent of the ground floor of the building be leased to marine-related business. Marine tenants have not yet been found.

Compass Health Analytics, located on Congress Street, is among the tenants leasing the second floor of the building, according to Dan Jacques, a manager at Waterfront Maine, which owns the building.

Jacques said the company has been focused on renovating and filling the upper floors and hasn’t started searching for marine tenants.

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

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