On Tuesday afternoon last week, a lone security guard was stationed in an office sandwiched between the city-owned parking garage and the One Riverfront Plaza office building in Westbrook. The building, a looming six stories of brick facade along the river, had been home to a major city employer, but now sits empty.

The guard, working for Suburban Security of Windham, which contracts with the city for security of both the garage and surrounding grounds, said his job has been slow as of late. No one is going in or out of the parking garage.

Insurance company Disability RMS left in November, after failing to reach a lease agreement, taking with it the roughly 350 employees who worked there. While city officials were optimistic earlier in the year about a potential deal between the owners and a new tenant, there is reason to be concerned more than six months later that the deal is in jeopardy.

“It’s been quiet for sure,” said the security guard, who wished to remain anonymous.

He said he and other guards have mostly been enforcing the trespassing rules, kicking kids off the grounds for riding bikes down a landscaped walkway that separates the garage from the office building.

Now, city officials have been told there may be another potential “full-building” tenant in the discussion, but have been kept mostly in the dark over negotiations.

In December 2015, during her speech at the city’s inaugural ceremonies, Mayor Colleen Hilton said a deal was forthcoming. The deal was said to be between building owners Roebling Investment Company of New Jersey and Maine Medical Center, which was slated to lease the entire building for administrative offices.

As time passed and no deal was announced, former assistant city administrator Bill Baker said the groups were discussing a possible sale of the building, rather than lease. But the city has not been made privy to all negotiations between the owners, the listing broker Boulos and the potential tenants, which are seen as confidential.

“There’s no saying that it can’t or won’t happen, but I’m concerned over the time that has passed since the discussions started,” said City Administrator Jerre Bryant last week.

Baker, who left the city in April, told the American Journal that when he left, the parties were still negotiating, but were held up by a “gap between buyer’s appraisal and seller’s appraisal.”

He said just last week he was told that the ownership team may have another “full building tenant new to the Maine market now under consideration.”

Baker attributed his information to members of the building ownership team and third parties familiar with the negotiations.

Bryant said he has not heard any other information this week on the other potential tenant.

Susan Pertier, the communications manager for Maine Medical Center, had confirmed in January that the medical group was looking to relocate “administrative functions” to a new location. She said Monday that the company “continues to explore various options related to administrative functions that can be delivered most efficiently offsite from our main campus on the Portland peninsula.”

When asked if One Riverfront Plaza was one of those options, Pertier declined to comment.

Calls to Roebling Investment Company were not returned by the American Journal’s deadline Wednesday.

The six-story, 134,000-square-foot building at the foot of Saccarappa Falls is seen as an important factor in downtown Westbrook’s economy. Before Disability RMS exited, the company’s employees could be spotted daily on the riverwalk and at downtown restaurants. The company had moved to Westbrook in 2004, steadily growing, but had never completely utilized the entire building.

A potential deal bringing in a “full-building” tenant would mean even more employees – close to 600 – utilizing the downtown.

“We’re offering any supportive services we can to either party to make this happen,” said Bryant. He said city administration feels some pressure to get the building filled, but also said Roebling must be feeling some pressure as well. After all, they’re no longer receiving rent payments.

John Wipfler, who took over for Baker as interim assistant city administrator, said he has not been told much by those within the negotiations.

“My understanding is that discussions continue but that the parties are not disclosing much to the outside world,” he said in an email. “This is a significant property for Westbrook and we are hopeful for everyone that there can be a positive resolution soon.”

Mayor Colleen Hilton said she’s not waiting idly by while the building remains vacant. She said as part of an upcoming restructuring of the functions at City Hall, she’ll be bringing in a consultant to work with the parties involved, and on other economic development.

“I think the city can do more,” she said. “I don’t want to be a passive player in economic development.”

Hilton said that at the next City Council meeting, on Monday, July 11, she’ll bring forward her plans for restructuring. Although Wipfler was brought in as an interim replacement for Baker, Hilton said she doesn’t want the city to be “conservative” with its resources.

With the “big, empty building” of One Riverfront Plaza, but also countless other projects in development in Westbrook, Hilton said there needs to be more focus on economic development.

“I’m feeling more optimistic about it,” she said about the negotiations.

The Bridge Street bridge construction project is also slated to be finished in September, which will connect pedestrian-friendly elements such as a walking bridge to the foot of the One Riverfront Plaza property. Hilton said the timing of a new tenant coinciding with the completed project could be beneficial.

Last week, a pedestrian coming off the project’s makeshift crossing, turned and walked past the office building. He peered into the steel gate over the empty parking garage, and moved on.

The gates at the entrance to the One Riverfront Plaza parking garage remain shuttered more than six months after Disability RMS left the office building.

One Riverfront Plaza in Westbrook.

The top floor of the parking garage at One Riverfront Plaza.


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