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July 28, 2017 | last updated July 28, 2017 1:23 pm

WEX a step closer to securing Portland waterfront site as headquarters

Courtesy / WEX Inc.
Courtesy / WEX Inc.
An artist's rendering shows what WEX's global headquarters would look like at the proposed location on Portland's east end waterfront across from the Ocean Gateway complex.

WEX Inc. has cleared the first hurdle in its bid to purchase city-owned property on Portland's eastern waterfront as the development site for its global headquarters.

In a statement issued July 27, the City of Portland indicated that the city's Economic Development Committee selected 0 Hancock Street LLC, led by Jonathan Cohen, in partnership with WEX, to develop a 48,000-square-foot portion of the city-owned Thames Street property located across from the Ocean Gateway complex.

WEX (NYSE: WEX), Maine's second-largest publicly traded company, now has its headquarters in South Portland, and it has said it would retain space there.

WEX's partnership with 0 Hancock Street LLC was one of two bidders that responded to the city of Portland's RFP in April. The competing bid was submitted by a partnership formed by Portland-based Atlantic Bayside Development LLC and Jackrabbit LLC, which the Portland Press Herald reported in May when the bids were announced had proposed a mixed-use development involving 165,000 square feet of office, residential and retail space along with a 392-car parking garage.

"This is a really, really positive next step, but we still have some steps to go through yet," WEX spokesman Rob Gould told Mainebiz this morning.

What comes next?

The city's news release reported that city staff have been negotiating with the WEX development team under the direction of the EDC and have executed a purchase-and-sale agreement for $3.3 million.

The EDC will hold a public meeting Aug. 1 to discuss its selection of WEX's proposal and the purchase-and-sales agreement. Public comment will be taken, and the committee is expected to submit its final recommendation to the City Council.

City Council is scheduled to take up the matter at its Aug. 21 meeting.

"We're looking forward to hearing from the public regarding the committee's selected development proposal and our purchase-and-sale agreement," Councilor David Brenerman, chairman of the EDC, said in a statement emailed to Mainebiz. "This is truly an exciting opportunity to attract the world headquarters of a major Maine-based international business that will bring almost 500 new high-quality jobs to Portland's eastern waterfront."

Details of WEX's proposal

As Mainebiz reported in May, WEX's interest in locating its global headquarters on Portland's eastern waterfront is spurred by its tremendous growth in recent years and a "bursting at the seams" situation for its 800 employees at its current South Portland location.

Gould said Cohen's proposal involves a four-story, 100,000-square-foot building with 10,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

Additionally, between 450-550 new surface and structured parking spaces, located within 750 feet of the Thames Street site, will be constructed to accommodate WEX needs and increased public parking needs in Portland's East End.

"There is expected to be growth in the number of employees who would be working at that location," Gould said.

If the other remaining hurdles are met and the project proceeds as planned, WEX anticipates to be able to occupy its new headquarters sometime in 2019.

WEX President and CEO Melissa Smith told Mainebiz today: "This is an important next step for us. We are hopeful and excited as we move forward through the rest of the process with the Portland City Council. We eagerly await the final approval process which will allow us to finalize our plans. We'll continue to keep optionality until it's complete. "

Smith added: "WEX's culture comes from our roots in Maine. We are excited about the prospect of expanding and establishing our global headquarters in downtown Portland, in the heart of a vibrant, flourishing city. Although we are excited about our potential move to Portland, it is important to note that we will continue to maintain a significant presence in South Portland. South Portland is where we grew up as a company and our presence there will remain a critical part of our business."

On Thursday, WEX reported its total revenue increased 30% to $303.9 million from $233.9 million for the three months ended June 30 and projected its full-year revenue for 2017 would be in the range of $1.20 billion to $1.22 billion.

In 2009, the City Council directed city staff to market the Thames Street lot for sale to help further realize the Eastern Waterfront Master Plan. The master plan envisioned a mixed-use build-out of the upland sections of the district establishing a new urban neighborhood based on an expanded street grid, resulting in over a half-million square feet of additional office, retail and residential construction to be supported by additional structured parking.

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