A rendering of the cold storage warehouse that is set to break ground on Portland’s waterfront on Monday following seven years of planning shaped by opposition from West End residents. Rendering courtesy of Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure

Construction of a gigantic refrigerated warehouse on Portland’s waterfront is set to begin after seven years of planning and false starts that have played out against a backdrop of opposition from West End residents.

State and local officials plan a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the Maine International Cold Storage Facility, a 107,000-square-foot building sited on Commercial Street next to Maine’s sole shipping container terminal. The warehouse has been touted as critical to expanding freight through Portland and giving Maine food and beverage companies a competitive edge and access to markets.

Pandemic disruptions delayed permitting and construction plans, but also demonstrated a continued need for refrigerated storage in Maine, said Matt Burns, executive director of the Maine Port Authority. “We have always known there is significant demand for cold chain logistics. Cold storage has always been part of the master plan,” Burns said. “That demand for food and beverage products and cold storage did not decline and wane during the pandemic, it seemed to get stronger.”

Plans for the warehouse were approved by the Portland Planning Board nearly two years ago. The building price has grown from $30 million to $55 million. Construction is expected to finish early in 2024.

The warehouse is a public-private partnership between the port authority and developers Amber Infrastructure Group, an international company with headquarters in London, and Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure, a financing company based in Yarmouth. The state of Maine contributed $8 million to the project, money dedicated to preparing the property for building. The warehouse will sit on leased state land.

Plans were approved but a lengthy permitting process went into 2022, said Tom O’Shaughnessy, co-founder of Amber Infrastructure. Through permitting, the project was redesigned to lower the building height to 55 feet, move refrigeration and mechanical systems to face the port and modify the Commercial Street frontage, O’Shaughnessy said.


“At every step of the way we were able to address concerns and improve the building at the same time,” he said.

A large rooftop solar array is planned for the project and projected to generate enough electricity to provide 20 percent of the warehouse’s energy use.

Since it was first proposed in 2015, the cold storage project faced stiff opposition from West End neighbors concerned its height would block harbor views and increase traffic on outer Commercial Street. An original proposal from Americold, a major refrigerated storage company, was shelved in 2018 after a lengthy and contentious zoning and planning process. Cold storage plans were revived the same year with a public-private partnership between the state and developers.

Refrigerated storage next to the International Marine Terminal container port will likely draw new customers, including clients of Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company that specializes in transporting cold and frozen freight, O’Shaughnessy said. Since starting trips to Portland in 2013, Eimskip, the sole company landing at the terminal, has increased freight volume by 20 percent on average per year, with almost 38,200 containers crossing the Portland docks last year.

Though Eimskip’s clients are likely users of the 21,750 pallet-space warehouse, there will be no reserved space for any user and Maine companies will be encouraged to take advantage of the infrastructure, O’Shaughnessy said. “There is almost an inevitability that the clients Eimskip will bring into the port will use cold storage,” he said. But “no customers have guaranteed space or priority space in the facility, it’s open to everyone.”

A cold storage building is the latest in a series of upgrades transforming the container terminal from an abandoned space Portland used for a snow dump to a hive of activity. More investment is planned in coming years to accommodate more containers, allow larger ships and lure shipping companies to port, said Burns, the port authority director.

“I think bottom line, we are open for business. Any carrier that wants to move containers and freight through International Marine Terminal, we are open to that,” Burns said.

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