Some of the world’s biggest players in cold storage are vying to build a multimillion-dollar warehouse on Portland’s waterfront, a project seen as a critical for supporting the city’s port and Maine’s growing food production industry.

The Maine Port Authority asked seven companies Wednesday to submit bids. The authority had vetted the companies for financial capacity and expertise. The companies include the world’s largest cold storage company, Americold Logistics LLC, which owns a billion cubic feet of cold storage space in six countries, and its rival, Lineage Logistics LLC, which owns 600 million cubic feet of cold storage space. Americold has an outmoded cold storage facility on Read Street in Portland.

The companies’ interest shows that the warehouse project is commercially viable, said Jonathan Nass, chairman of the Maine Port Authority.

“We are thrilled,” he said. “It’s not just the number but the quality of the bidders. There is real diversity and great expertise.”

Other qualified bidders include Preferred Freezer Services, which owns more than 200 million cubic feet of cold storage space in the United States; Eimskip, an Icelandic company that operates container vessels out of Portland and also owns cold-storage warehouses; XTL Inc., a Philadelphia-based logistics company; and Wilmington Cold Storage Inc., which operates warehouses in Wilmington and Stoughton, Massachusetts.

One qualified bidder, Eastern Impact LLC of Portland, is the lead entity in a consortium that has been put together for the project.

STORAGE SHORTAGE

The warehouse would be built on 6.3 acres of state-owned land just west of the Casco Bay Bridge. The project calls for a private company to build the facility and pay the Maine Port Authority rent on a long-term lease. The state wants bidders to submit their own ideas about the size and type of cold-storage facility. The site could support a warehouse as large as 120,000 square feet and with 12 truck bays.

The deadline for bid proposals is Aug. 24. Port Authority officials are moving quickly, hoping to select a winner soon so construction can begin next year.

The state has been expanding the International Marine Terminal westward, so it connects with a freight rail line. Crews are currently building a 750-foot long, 75-foot wide concrete pad to support trucks that will haul containers between ships and freight trains.

For the expansion, the state paid $7.2 million for an 18-acre parcel, which includes the 6.3 acres set aside for the warehouse. A tenant, NGL Supply Terminal Co., operates a liquid propane terminal on half of the 6.3-acre site.

The propane company has been trying to win permission to build a new facility in Rigby Yard in South Portland but has run into local opposition. The company continues to look at that site as well as other sites, said John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority. He said he expects the propane company will move to a new location by next summer. The state is paying for the move.

Nass said there is a shortage of cold storage warehouse space in Maine and that many of the state’s food producers and processors must now ship their products out-of-state for storage.

Americold offers cold storage at its 150,000-square-foot warehouse on Read Street, but the facility is old and does not provide the same level of automation and temperature control as a modern facility, Nass said.

“The technology has come a long ways in recent years,” he said.

JOINT PROPOSAL EXPECTED

A modern warehouse, which uses robotics systems, can more easily store food items in segregated areas cooled to a range of preferred temperatures, he said. Fish, for example, needs to be stored at a different temperature than blueberries or broccoli.

Nass said he expects that Eimskip and Americold will submit a joint proposal.

Yucaipa Cos., a private equity firm based in Los Angeles, owns Americold. Two Yucaipa investment funds own 25.3 percent of Eimskip, according to Eimskip’s 2014 annual report.

Daniel Cook, marketing director for Americold, would not comment on the bid process. He said the cold storage industry is now expanding because of growing consumer demand for chilled food products, such as seafood, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products like yogurt.

Americold has the advantage of understanding the local market, he said.

“We are familiar with the local customer base,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Larus Isfeld, managing director of Eimskip USA Inc., declined to discuss the company’s bid. He said Eimskip currently stores some cargo in out-of-state cold storage facilities. He said a modern warehouse in Portland would make it easier for Maine’s food processing companies to grow by providing better storage options and at lower costs.

“It’s a big deal for food processing companies,” he said.