A lawmaker wants the state to allocate $4 million to the new owner of Union Wharf to offset the value lost because the owner has agreed to forgo development there.

State Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, said the financial help would aid the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which bought the 230-year-old wharf in 2021. The Poole family, which had owned the wharf outright since the 1950s, said it chose to sell to the institute rather than other potential buyers because it offered the best opportunity to preserve the wharf for marine uses.

Union Wharf Photo courtesy of Gulf of Maine Research Institute

When the Pooles announced the wharf was for sale in early 2021, the institute beat the bushes to try to find someone to buy it, eventually contacting nearly three dozen individuals or organizations, said Don Perkins, president and chief executive officer of the institute. When it became clear that no one was willing to make a bid, he said, the institute decided it needed to act.

The organization borrowed $12.35 million to buy the wharf and talked with the bank that provided the mortgage about adding an easement to the deed that would help preserve the wharf, Perkins said. The institute and the bank also discussed the possibility of state aid in return for that easement while figuring out financing for the deal, he said.

Adding an easement to protect Union Wharf from future development “is critical and was part of our strategy,” Poole said. “We didn’t buy the wharf to become wharf owners, we bought the wharf to protect it.”

Brenner said the state should help with finances because Union Wharf is “a really essential spot” near the center of Portland’s working waterfront. The Pooles invested in the wharf and maintained it over the years and it has become “the most desirable working wharf in the harbor,” Brenner said.


The announcement by the Pooles that Union Wharf was up for sale was greeted with “everyone’s horror,” she said, particularly the 27 businesses located on it. Three-quarters of those businesses, she said, are involved with fishing, seafood or other maritime activities.

Since the institute purchased the wharf, Perkins said, it has continued to provide fishing vessels with affordable berthing and long-term improvements are planned. He also said that as leases for non-maritime uses have expired it has sought to replace those businesses with maritime tenants.

Brenner said there was relief when the Pooles rejected higher bids from real estate speculators and instead sold to the institute. Financial aid from the state would provide recognition of the additional risk it has taken on in adopting a preservation easement.

“GMRI stepped in and it is a keystone of the working waterfront,” Brenner said.

Brenner’s bill has already been through a public hearing before the Legislature’s Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, but Brenner said it faces further committee work before a vote is taken.

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