Though not a final design, these sketches show what a proposed Americold warehouse on Portland's eastern waterfront might look like. The top image depicts a view from Beach Street and the bottom shows what it could look like from Commercial Street.

Though not a final design, these sketches show what a proposed Americold warehouse on Portland’s western waterfront might look like. The top image depicts a view from Beach Street and the bottom shows what it could look like from Commercial Street.

The world’s largest cold-storage company will most likely walk away from its proposal to invest up to $30 million in Portland’s western waterfront unless city officials allow it to build a massive warehouse that would exceed the current height limit by nearly 25 feet, an economic development official said Friday.

The Portland Planning Board will hold a workshop Tuesday to learn more details about a request by cold-storage provider Americold Logistics LLC to build a 68-foot-tall cold-storage warehouse on the city’s western waterfront, on property zoned for buildings no taller than 45 feet.

“The workshop is about a zoning language change that’s being considered by the city,” said John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, an economic development group focused on the marine industry that supports the zoning change. “Without the zoning change, there likely will not be a project.”

Americold representatives did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

The Atlanta-based company was chosen through a competitive bidding process to build a modern refrigerated warehouse on the Portland waterfront, providing the port with a critical missing element to compete with larger, more congested ports on the Eastern Seaboard.

However, Americold has since asked the city to let it build a structure that would be 23 feet higher than current zoning allows, arguing that the added height is necessary to make the project financially viable. The request has proven wildly unpopular with area residents, who say the hulking Americold structure would defile the ocean landscape for those passing through the city’s gateway to Casco Bay.


Portland officials have published dozens of letters from residents opposing the zoning change, along with a lesser number expressing support. Tuesday’s meeting, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Portland City Hall, will be informational in nature and will not involve a vote on the proposed change to the property’s height restrictions.

After the workshop, the planning board will hold a public hearing and make a recommendation on the zoning request to the City Council, which will have the final say. If the rezoning is approved, the state would lease a 6.3-acre site to Americold, which would design the warehouse, fund its construction and operate it. The total estimated amount of Americold’s investment would be $19 million to $30 million. The project is part of a state-led effort to make the port more competitive with other ports and boost Maine’s seafood, agriculture and food and beverage industries.

This rendering show what the cold-storage facility would look like from the air.

This rendering shows what the cold-storage facility would look like from the air.

The Maine Port Authority announced in August 2015 that Americold had won the bid to develop the site, located adjacent to the expanded International Marine Terminal on West Commercial Street.

Americold already operates a 65-year-old cold-storage warehouse on Read Street in Portland. It is partnering on the waterfront project with Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company that made Portland its North American headquarters in 2013. Eimskip would be both an investor and an anchor tenant.

Americold submitted a set of renderings to the city, published Friday, that give a general sense of what the project would look like and how it would fit in with the surrounding area. Henshaw said the company hopes the renderings will allay some of the board’s – and residents’ – potential concerns.

“The purpose of submitting the renderings is hopefully to make people more confident about what will ultimately get built if the city approves the zoning change,” he said.


Bill Needelman, waterfront director for Portland’s economic development department, said economic development officials are expected to present their case Tuesday for why the relaxing of height restrictions for Americold would benefit Portland and the state.

The city could go a number of ways with respect to the company’s request, he said. It could deny the maximum height change altogether, make it applicable only to the Americold property, or relax height restrictions for all properties along the waterfront.

“Zoning can be applied broadly or narrowly,” Needelman said.

Many Portland residents have expressed vehement opposition to the zoning change, characterizing the entire affair as a bait-and-switch, since there was no mention of the possibility of raising height restrictions when the cold-storage project was originally proposed.

“About 60 residents attended the city-sponsored neighborhood meeting on Nov. 3 to speak in opposition to the proposed 70-foot rezoning, including some who don’t live in the West End but who feel strongly that a huge, out-of-scale white box has no place on Portland’s waterfront,” resident Jo Coyne wrote in a letter to the planning board. “Residents clearly want the city to achieve a better balance between economic development and existing neighborhoods than what’s on the table.”

But others, including a number of businesses, said they support the height change because of the economic benefits Americold’s project would deliver to the waterfront.


“We must strive to adapt to the shipping marketplace, or, as so many other ports, wither,” said William York, president of the Propeller Club of Portland, a maritime industry group whose members are dedicated to promoting commerce in the Port of Portland. “The proposed modest and logical alteration in allowable building height … will allow private capital to build a much-needed port facility, a facility which will improve opportunities for businesses far inland, and which will allow the Port of Portland to continue to be a powerful driver of the regional economy.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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