Credit-card processing company Wright Express Corp. of South Portland said it recently hired a commercial real estate firm in Boston and is looking into relocating its facilities within Maine.

Local real estate and city government sources suggest that one location the company is looking at is The Forefront at Thompson’s Point, a $105 million hotel, office and arena complex to be built in Portland. Construction is expected to start next year.

A company spokewoman declined to comment specifically on whether the company was considering a move to Thompson’s Point or had any other specific location in mind, but several local real estate agents who refused to give their names said they had heard Wright and Thompson’s Point were talking about a possible move there.

“Wright Express is very pleased to confirm that it is growing both internationally and domestically. As our work force grows, we are continuously evaluating our facilities options. We have contracted with Jones Lang LaSalle to explore opportunities for us,” said a written statement from Wright Express spokeswoman Jessica Roy. “As is the case with any growing business, this is an ongoing process. We are pleased that existing and new facilities in the Portland area provide us with numerous options to maintain our headquarters in Maine.”

If Wright Express moved, it would be a big loss for South Portland. The company has an overall stock market value of $2.7 billion and about 900 employees, 622 of them in Maine.

It paid $283,540 last year in real estate and personal property taxes — on business equipment — which puts the company among the top 25 business taxpayers in the city, according to South Portland Assessor Elizabeth Sawyer.

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Wright Express’ real estate broker, Brooks Murphy of Jones Lang LaSalle in Boston, did not return calls seeking comment.

Morris Fisher, president of local real estate firm Boulos Co., the commercial broker for the Thompson’s Point property, said one of Boulos’ brokers, Drew Sigfridson, was working with Wright Express.

When asked whether Wright Express was looking at Thompson’s Point, Sigfridson said “we’re in the process of marketing that property. Nothing has been signed yet.”

The Forefront at Thompson’s Point has not yet confirmed signing any business tenants to lease deals. The massive mixed-use project includes two office buildings, a 3,500- to 4,800-seat event arena, a 125-room hotel, restaurants, a sports medicine facility and a parking garage.

Chris Thompson, one of the Thompson’s Point managing partners, said he could not say which business tenants the development had lined up or was talking to, other than the Maine Red Claws. Wright Express Chief Executive Michael Dubyak is an investor in the Red Claws.

“We have some tenants we’re excited about,” Thompson said. “We’re not in a position to speak with specifics on that. We’re talking to a lot of different folks.”

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City officials in Portland and South Portland danced around the question of whether Wright Express was a possible tenant at Thompson’s Point.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said he has not “directly” participated in discussions to recruit Wright Express, and declined to say whether he had heard anything about the company planning a move to Thompson’s Point.

Greg Mitchell, Portland’s economic development director, said the city has been trying to land out-of-state businesses for Thompson’s Point, but has not solicited Maine businesses to relocate.

South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey said Tuesday he hadn’t heard anything about Wright Express relocating. On Thursday, Gailey referred all questions to the company.

In South Portland, Wright Express has benefitted from a 15-year tax increment financing package approved in 2001 and scheduled to end in fiscal year 2016. Through June 30, 2012, South Portland has collected $1.8 million in taxes from Wright Express, and returned $862,872 to the company.

Wright Express, which processes credit-card transactions and fuel purchases for fleets of corporate and government vehicles, has been on an acquisition spree to expand its range of products and industries, and its international presence. Its stock has jumped 78 percent in the past 12 months.

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Wright Express has made a series of recent acquisitions, including a $369 million deal earlier this month to buy fuel card company Fleet One from private equity firms. Other recent deals include buying 51 percent of UNIK SA, a Brazilian provider of payroll cards, for about $21.9 million, as well as acquiring CorporatePay, a London-based provider of corporate prepaid cards for the travel industry, for about $27.5 million in cash. The company also acquired Wright Express Australia in 2010 and rapid! PayCard last year.

The Thompson’s Point project has already been approved by the Portland Planning Board, so Thompson said the group only needs to pull building permits before it can begin construction, expected to be early next year.

“It’s taken a long time,” he said. “It’s out of the gate. It’s going to get done. It’s going to get built.” 

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@mainetoday.com

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

 

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