Now that the Portland City Council has approved a deal that allows Wex Inc. to relocate its headquarters from South Portland to the Portland waterfront, the company hopes to break ground on the project this year and begin transferring employees to the new location in early 2019.

But before its plans can be finalized, Wex must complete negotiations with the developer who will build its headquarters, Jonathan Cohen of 0 Hancock Street LLC, and await Portland Planning Board approval for the project, company executives said.

“We’re not totally there yet,” Wex President and CEO Melissa Smith said, “but we’re excited about the progress we’ve made.”

Smith said the company, which provides payment-processing services to businesses, hopes the Planning Board process will go smoothly. The Portland City Council voted unanimously Aug. 21 to sell a 48,000-square-foot parcel of land near the eastern waterfront for $3.3 million to Cohen, who has an agreement to construct a 100,000-square-foot office building for Wex along with some retail space on the first floor and an adjacent parking lot.

Smith said Cohen expects to go before the Planning Board in early September. The sale is expected to close by Oct. 1.

The council’s Economic Development Committee recommended the sale to Cohen, and said bringing Wex to downtown Portland would enable the city to fund a variety of services while bringing good-paying jobs downtown.

It favored the project over a competing bid by a partnership between Portland-based Atlantic Bayside Development LLC and Jackrabbit LLC to develop two mixed-use buildings with about 165,000 square feet of office, residential and retail space, along with a 382-car parking garage.

Wex’s headquarters would be a four-story building at the corner of Hancock and Thames streets. The first floor would include 10,000 square feet of retail space, as well as office space for Wex. All of the upper floors would be designated as office space for Wex. The Thames Street property is zoned for a maximum building height of 45 feet, with some allowances of up to 55 feet.

Between 450 and 550 new surface and structured parking spaces would be within 750 feet of the Thames Street site to accommodate the company’s needs and increased demand for public parking in Portland’s East End, the city has said.

Smith said Wex ultimately plans to relocate about 40 percent of its South Portland workforce to the new headquarters. The company has about 800 employees and 200 contract workers in South Portland, she said.

Overall, the company’s employees are excited about the move, Smith said. Wex also plans to upgrade its South Portland facilities for those who remain behind, she said.

Wex is a fast-growing company that provides payment-processing services for vehicle fleets, online travel services, and health care and employee benefits providers. In its latest quarterly earnings statement, the company reported revenue of $304 million, up 30 percent from $234 million in the second quarter of 2016. In 2016, the company hit the $1 billion revenue mark for the first time.

Wex has a global workforce of about 2,700 employees, Smith said. She noted that Wex is used to operating multiple campuses and said that the move to Portland would not cause any business interruptions.

“We have moved people around so many times over the years, we’re actually pretty good at that,” Smith said.

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

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Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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