Portland’s waterfront continues to draw major employers from neighboring communities, with the latest announcement coming from a financial services firm that has 500 workers in Scarborough and South Portland.

Sun Life U.S., the domestic arm of Canadian firm Sun Life Financial Inc., informed employees Thursday morning that it intends to lease 77,000 square feet of office space in the planned Portland Foreside complex on the eastern waterfront’s former Portland Co. site and relocate there in mid-2022.

Sun Life said it will relocate all 500 of its Portland-area workers to the waterfront, with additional space for up to 200 more. A Portland official acknowledged that the project could exacerbate the waterfront’s growing traffic congestion, but said the city is planning a number of ways to mitigate the problem, including a waterfront shuttle service that would employ self-driving vehicles.

“We are very excited to join the thriving downtown Portland business community,” Dan Fishbein, president of Sun Life U.S., said in a statement. “Our new open, agile and collaborative space at Portland Foreside will support Sun Life as an employer of choice in the area.”

The office building, which has yet to be built, also would become the headquarters of Sun Life subsidiary FullscopeRMS and its flagship business, disability risk-management firm Disability RMS, which Sun Life purchased in 2015.

The office building at 58 Fore St. would feature prominent Sun Life and FullscopeRMS branding and would be a major part of the first phase of development at Portland Foreside, a mixed-use project. The project’s developer plans to construct a four-story, 100,000-square-foot building with retail space on the ground floor and three floors of office space. Adjacent to the building would be a parking garage with 600 to 650 spaces, he said, with additional surface parking of about 70 spaces.


Portland Foreside Managing Partner Casey Prentice said the office building and parking garage would comprise the first phase of new construction, along with 24 units of housing, in what he envisions as a three-phase project.

The renovation of existing, historic buildings on the former railroad foundry site also would be part of the first phase, with one of the buildings earmarked to house Evo Kitchen + Bar restaurant upon completion, Prentice said. The developer has yet to apply for site plan approval, but plans to do so this year and break ground on the project in early 2020, with full completion of the first phase expected by summer 2022.

Prentice said the office portion of the project would not have been possible without a commitment from a major tenant, and that Sun Life has agreed to sign a 15-year lease. Planning for a hotel at the site has been postponed in favor of the office project, he said.

“We are thrilled to have Sun Life on board as a major business presence in this new waterfront neighborhood,” he said in a statement. “As part of the first phase of Portland Foreside’s urban mixed-use development, Sun Life’s employees will join a diverse mix of offerings – including a new public market, world-class hospitality by Fore Points Marina and a boutique hotel plus an eclectic blend of residential apartments and town homes in keeping with Portland’s charm and character.”

Sun Life’s decision to relocate near the waterfront follows a similar move by payment processing technology firm Wex Inc., which relocated its headquarters from South Portland to a new building at 1 Hancock St. in March and moved about 400 employees there. In addition to Wex, veterinary technology firm Covetrus Inc. is building a new headquarters that the company says ultimately will bring an additional 1,200 jobs to the downtown area.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings said the announcement by Sun Life follows a string of recent successes in the city’s efforts to attract employers.


“It’s just another example of how major companies are bringing corporate headquarters into the city of Portland,” Jennings said. “These are all really, really good things that are happening in our city.”

Jennings acknowledged that the movement of large employers to the waterfront has an impact on parking and traffic congestion in the area, which many residents believe has reached a crisis level. Sun Life has been promised adequate on-site parking to accommodate all its workers, but Jennings said the city will try to convince the company to offer financial incentives to employees that use public transportation, as it did with Wex.

“On the Wex side, that was actually strongly suggested by us,” he said, referring to a policy in which the company pays workers up to $1,000 a year to walk, bike, carpool, use public transportation or park remotely and take a shuttle downtown.

Jennings said Portland recently installed individually computer-controlled traffic signals on Forest Avenue that have resulted in a 25 percent reduction in average drive time on the major north-south thoroughfare. Next week, the same system is being installed on Franklin Street, the primary choke point for traffic moving between the waterfront and Interstate 295, he said.

The city plans to install the same system on Commercial Street, the waterfront’s major roadway, and reduce the number of crosswalks to help improve the traffic flow, Jennings said.

Portland’s most ambitious traffic-reduction plan would involve the use of a shuttle service using only self-driving vehicles. Jennings said city officials already have mapped the area with special software for autonomous vehicle use and are now seeking approval to start the shuttle service on Commercial Street in the spring.


“We’re already proactively doing things to reduce traffic and/or congestion,” he said. “I think, in the future, you’re going to see a lot of people parking remotely and being transitioned into the downtown through a kind of last-mile shuttle.”

Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall said he is disappointed that Sun Life plans to leave the town for Portland, but is pleased that the company plans to stay in the region. He said Sun Life would leave behind a renovated office property in Scarborough that would be attractive to other businesses.

“Our understanding is that Sun Life chose this area because of the availability and quality of the talent in the region,” Hall said. “They’ve clearly been successful in tapping into a great pool of workers, which is key to their continued success.”

Similar reflections came from William Mann, economic development director in South Portland, who said he understands the appeal of working in a new office building on Portland’s waterfront. Although sorry to see Disability RMS leave, he said he doesn’t believe the city will have any trouble filling the building with new tenants.

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