The Portland City Council voted Monday to approve a purchase-and-sale agreement with 144 Fore St. OZ, which plans to work with Wex Inc., to redevelop the Thames Street lot into offices and commercial space. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Portland City Council this week approved the sale of a public parking lot on Thames Street for redevelopment despite concerns about the sale price and a lack of new housing.

The council voted 8-1 Monday to approve the sale of the Thames Street Lot at the northwest corner of Thames Street and Freedom Way to 144 Fore St. OZ LLC for $1.15 million, far below the latest property estimate of around $4 million.

“It feels incongruent,” said Councilor Andrew Zarro, the only councilor who dissented in the 8-1 vote. “We have massive, vacant office spaces and a housing shortage. … I just don’t feel comfortable checking the boxes of saying we’re going after our council goals specific to housing.”

144 Fore St. OZ , a Portland-based real estate investment company, is proposing a mixed-use development on the site that will include offices for Wex Inc., which is headquartered nearby at 1 Hancock St., and commercial space.

Some city councilors Monday questioned whether the sale price was too low and whether the city could have done more to attract proposals for housing at the site. Despite the waterfront location, the developer’s bid was the only proposal the council received after putting out a request in 2021, and did not include housing.

“I know we can’t force people to build housing on lots we sell them, but we can certainly incentivize it. … I think it’s a missed opportunity,” said Zarro, who said that as a former member of the housing and economic development committee, he had asked for the RFP to include a housing component.


Councilor April Fournier said she wanted to make sure the city “isn’t giving the store away” and said the price seems like “a pretty big discount” in exchange for benefits to the city.

Interim Director of Housing and Economic Development Mary Davis told the council that a 2021 appraisal estimated the property value at between $3.9 and $4.1 million. But Davis said the developer also is agreeing to create public access and other benefits that aren’t included in the price tag.

The sale includes a $50,000 cash contribution for public restrooms, five free parking spots for use by the city for four years, two public access easements and city ownership of a portion of Freedom Way, which connects Fore and Thames streets.

Davis said the city could have just sold the property and made improvements itself, but the agreement is in line with the city’s goals of attracting private investment, having adequate parking and preserving accessibility. 

She said Wednesday that housing wasn’t explicitly included or excluded from the RFP and would have been an allowable use within the current zoning.

The proposal from 144 Fore St. OZ calls for a 70,000-square-foot, three-story building along with improvements to the land and streetscape.


“This project will bring hundreds of new jobs to Portland’s eastern waterfront and will serve as a catalyst for future development and job creation,” the managers of 144 Fore St. OZ wrote in a 2021 letter to the city in response to the request for proposals. “We also expect this project will enhance Portland’s reputation as an innovative, business-friendly city.”

Jonathan Cohen, a partner in 144 Fore St. OZ, declined to comment on the company’s plans beyond what’s provided in public documents, saying the project still has a long way to go before it comes to fruition and will have to go to the planning board for approval.

“We look forward to hopefully getting this done for the benefit of everyone in the city of Portland,” Cohen said.

The site is located adjacent to properties already occupied by Wex at 100 Fore St. and 1 Hancock St., the site of the company’s headquarters.

“If the prospective developer reaches satisfactory terms with the city, and we in turn reach satisfactory terms with the developer, WEX would expect to lease approximately 50,000 square feet, allowing WEX to accommodate an additional 130 new jobs in Portland,” Safet Cobaj, vice president of global real estate at WEX, said in a statement Wednesday.

Cobaj said the proposal would enhance the employee experience and “facilitate unprecedented public access on the eastern waterfront.”

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