Portland’s City Council voted 8-1 to sell the last piece of city-owned waterfront property on Thames Street to a developer that plans to make a mixed-use multi-tenant building for Wex, a global payment-processing and information management company based in Portland.
A few councilors raised concerns that the city was selling the property at a steep discount, and underestimating the potential for housing on the parcel.
The group who bought the land is listed as 144 Fore St. OZ LLC, a company managed by developer Jonathan Cohen. According to public documents filed with the state, 144 Fore St. OZ LLC is also linked to LIHC Investment Group, a national real estate firm that specializes in affordable housing and has offices in Portland. The company claims to have $5.5 billion in real estate holdings per its website. A spokesperson for LIHC Investment Group did not immediately reply to an inquiry.
The city will receive $1.15 million, including a $50,000 cash contribution for public restrooms, five free parking spaces valued at $43,000 for four years. The city will also receive Freedom Way, a private road currently owned by the developers, which the city will use as a public road to connect Thames and Fore streets. The city will also receive public easements.
City staff calculated the total value of the sale to the city is nearly $2.7 million. However, that figure is lower than an appraisal conducted last April, which valued this property — currently a parking lot — between $3.9 and $4.1 million. The city received only one response to a request for proposals for the property, and staff and the buyer agreed on other contributions, such as the public easements.
Councilor Andrew Zarro cast the lone vote in opposition. Zarro had advocated for a housing component to be part of the RFP process when previously serving on the Housing and Economic Development Committee when it was posted. He said that while he knows the city can’t force developers to build housing on lots they buy, he didn’t feel the Council was “checking the boxes” of their annual goals, which included housing as a top priority.
“If I could have my way, we’d keep working to find someone who wants to build housing here,” Zarro said.
Though she voted in favor of the sale, Councilor April Fournier also noted it seemed like “a pretty big discount,” and wanted to be sure the Council “wasn’t giving away the store” just because staff had been negotiating the sale for over a year.