The state is looking for a private developer to build a multimillion-dollar cold-storage warehouse on Portland’s waterfront, a move seen as critical to develop the port’s container business and to support Maine’s growing food production industry.

The Maine Port Authority issued a request Thursday for qualified companies to prove their abilities to build and operate the warehouse at the state-operated container terminal, which is undergoing an extensive expansion. Once eligible companies have been identified, the state will issue a request for bids, with a winner selected by Aug. 31.

Qualified companies must have experience developing, constructing and operating cold storage facilities and a minimum of $10 million in available financing, among other criteria.

Port authority officials say the continued growth of Eimskip, an Icelandic container line and refrigerated logistics company, has convinced them that there’s enough demand for cold storage space to support building a state-of-the-art facility.

Eimskip, which moved its North American operations from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland two years ago, operates several cold storage warehouses in ports around the world. The company will likely be among the bidders interested developing the Portland facility.

Eimskip currently operates a 187,000-square-foot warehouse at its headquarters in a port town just south of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. The company primarily ships frozen and chilled fish to the United States from Newfoundland, Iceland and northern Europe. It also ships food products, including frozen lobster, from Maine to Europe.

In April, Íslandsbanki, an Icelandic bank that provides financing for fisheries internationally, and Eimskip signed a $11.3 million loan agreement to build an additional cold storage warehouse that will be more than three times larger than the existing one. The new warehouse is being built adjacent to the old one.

Eimskip saw its business grow in Portland from 5,000 containers in 2013 to 6,200 in 2014. The company estimates it will move 7,500 containers through the port this year. Because there are not enough suitable cold storage facilities in the area, Eimskip now ships much of its frozen fish to cold storage warehouses in Massachusetts.

Americold offers cold storage at its 150,000-square-foot warehouse on Read Street, but the facility is not considered modern enough to meet the needs of Eimskip’s customers.


Seafood and agricultural companies could also use the warehouse to store products for domestic markets. Portland ranks 12th in the nation in food production and 36th in specialty food production in terms of the percentage of jobs in those sectors compared to the total workforce.

But a shortage of cold storage space in the state causes growers and wholesalers to transport their produce long distances to find warehouse space, said Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

In the state’s request, it notes that most of the food products that originate in Maine are shipped directly to customers or to cold stores throughout Massachusetts and Canada.

“Having brand-new, state-of-the-art cold storage capacity that is directly adjacent to fully functional intermodal logistics assets is key to growing the food and beverage industry sectors here in Maine and supporting the existing demand for cold storage that is presently being provided out of state,” the request states.

Although demand for cold storage facilities is high, they are expensive to build, costing an average of $150-$170 per square foot compared to $50-$65 per square foot for conventional warehouse space, according to a 2014 report by JLL, a financial and professional services firm specializing in commercial real estate services. Using that metric, a 100,000-square-foot facility would cost about $20 million to build. The cost of building the facility would be borne by the winning bidder.

The state’s plan is to prepare the West Commercial Street site for development, which is on going, and then offer a long-term lease to a company that would build, operate and own the warehouse.

The warehouse would be built on 4 acres just west of the Casco Bay Bridge. A tenant, NGL Supply Terminal Co., now operates a liquid propane terminal on half of the site.

The propane company wants to move to the Rigby Yard in South Portland, however, the company is now evaluating its options after the city’s consultants determined that a liquid propane facility isn’t allowed under zoning ordinances. The state will pay the cost of moving NGL.

The propane company’s problems in South Portland won’t delay the cold storage project though, said John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority. He said NGL will remain at its current site through the winter, and that construction of the cold storage warehouse is expected to begin next year.

The cold storage warehouse is part of a larger plan to expand the 14-acre International Marine Terminal to include about 12 acres on the west side of the Casco Bay Bridge, plus a 5-acre strip that would serve as a rail corridor. The project will provide more space to store and move containers, and also allow containers for the first time to be placed on trains within the terminal.

The state so far has spent $7.2 million on land acquisition and has awarded Shaw Brothers Construction of Gorham an $8.6 million contract to expand the facility. This is Phase 1 of the expansion project, which is scheduled to be completed this summer. The development of the cold storage facility is part of Phase 2.