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Updated: March 5, 2020

Plans for Portland cold-storage facility are back on the front burner

Rendering of planned cold storage warehouse on Portland's waterfront Rendering / Courtesy Woodard & Curran A rendering of the the proposed Maine International Cold Storage Facility, for which a site plan has been submitted to Portland's Planning Board.
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Plans for a long-awaited cold-storage warehouse on the Portland waterfront are back on the front burner after a new consortium led by Icelandic-owned Eimskip USA filed plans with the Portland Planning Board.

Joined by Yarmouth-based Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure and a U.K. company, Amber Infrastructure, the group submitted its plan Feb. 28 and is now getting the rest of the materials ready, Treadwell Franklin's chairman and the head of the Port Authority told Mainebiz in an interview Wednesday at the International Marine Terminal.

The review is expected to take six to eight weeks.

By early summer, the consortium hopes to have all the permitting done, contractors recruited and financing aligned so it can "start turning some dirt" by summer or fall, said George Campbell, chairman and partner with Treadwell Franklin.

"We're in the infrastructure business, and we consider this key infrastructure," said Campbell, a former Maine transportation commissioner who served as a Portland city councilor and mayor in the late 1990s, when air rights were sold to build the Casco Bay Bridge.

He was also a volunteer for the the Waterfront Alliance to get state bonding for the first crane at the International Marine Terminal, in which the state and its Port Authority have invested about $64 million, including a second crane that was added in 2018.

Campbell sees the future Maine International Cold Storage Facility as the "final crowning piece" of that work, and estimates the building cost at $25 million to $38 million. Though construction prices are high, he says that Treadwell Franklin and Sewell, an Old Town engineering firm it acquired in 2018, are "pretty good" at value engineering and scheduling.

Cold storage is considered a critical infrastructure link for processing companies that are involved in seafood, agricultural products like blueberries and potatoes, or pharmaceuticals. 

"We know the demand is there, and that's what George and his group are fleshing out in a more investment-grade way," said Nass. "It really is about a working waterfront, and about making this port competitive for decades and decades into the future."

George Campbell and Jonathan Nass reviewing papers for a new Portland cold storage facility.
Photo/Renee Cordes
George Campbell, left, of Treadwell Franklin Infastructure, and Maine Port Authority CEO Jonathan Nass going over the specs for the future Maine International Cold Storage Facility. They sat down with Mainebiz on Wednesday to talk about the plans, after submitting a site proposal to the city's Planning Board.

The new plan comes 21 months after Americold abruptly abandoned plans to design and build a warehouse itself, even after getting the zoning it needed for height and overcoming other opposition around issues such as traffic congestion. 

When Americold pulled out in June 2018, Nass insisted that the Maine Department of Transportation would go ahead anyway, and has been working with a host of others behind the scene to make that happen including Eimskip and engineering firm Woodard & Curran.

The last couple of months have been particularly busy, with Eimskip agreeing to exclusivity with Treadwell Franklin and the Maine Port Authority agreeing to terms on Jan. 27, followed by a project kick-off meeting two days later. On Feb. 10, the MPA OK'd the transfer of a ground lease to Treadwell Franklin and Amber on which to build the future Maine International Cold Storage Facility, the name on the application documents.

Long-term lease arrangement

Eimskip and the Maine Department of Transportation proceeded anyway, leading up to a project kickoff meeting in late January and then the lease agreement green light last month. 

Under the arrangement, Treadwell Franklin and Amber will lease the land from the Port Authority. The lease will run for 30 years, with two 10-year extensions, and the Port Authority is targeting annual compensation of around $500,000, though the final amount will depend on cargo volumes.

Besides an $800,000 development fee to the Port Authority at closing, Nass expects a minimum annual payment of $100,000 in first seven years, and then an annual minimum of $200,000. 

"We firmly believe that this is going to be successful and that we'll get more than that," he said, emphasizing that it will reinvest whatever it gets back into the port. "It's money that we'll use to continue to develop this maritime asset and others eventually."

'Supports the entire state'

Asked whether there might be a catchier name later for the facility, Campbell said it's meant to reflect its value to businesses over the entire state, from biopharmaceutical makers to blueberry growers and Aroostook County potato farmers who currently have no waterfront cold storage in Maine.

"It's named very specifically because it supports the entire state," he said. "I'm sure when the branding people are done, once we've got our permits and everything else, we'll come up with something really catchy. But right now, we wanted to give a shoutout that it's international, it's Maine, and it's all coming together."

When it's finished, the building will measure 120,000 square feet, have a maximum height of 75 feet in line with zoning requirements, 12 loading dock bays and about 20,000 pallet spaces. The facility will also feature a rooftop solar array that Nass said will be the largest of its kind in Maine.

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