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November 8, 2021

Two historic wharves on Portland's working waterfront face pending sales

Courtesy / Benchmark Real Estate Portland's Custom House Wharf, pictured here, is under a letter of intent to be sold to Maine buyers.

Two historic wharves on the Portland waterfront, Custom House Wharf and Union Wharf, are in the midst of pending sales that if completed would end generations of family ownership.

Custom House Wharf, which has been owned by the same family for more than 200 years, has a letter of intent to be sold to a Maine group that plans to keep it as a piece of working waterfront, said James Benoit, a broker with Benchmark Real Estate.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the property was listed on the New England Commercial Property Exchange for $11 million. The sale is expected to close around Jan. 1, 2022, Benoit said.

Meanwhile, Union Wharf, built in 1793 and the oldest wharf in Portland, also faces a pending sale, according to real estate firm the Dunham Group. Terms and timing of that deal were not disclosed.

Union Wharf, which includes 4.3 acres on Commercial Street, went on the market earlier this year. The wharf has been owned by the Poole family for five generations.

Selling a piece of working waterfront property is not easy. Custom House Wharf has been on the market since June, 2018, said Benoit.

The Custom House Wharf has had three different letters of intent for a deal, including the current one, since it’s been on the market, Benoit said.

The deals have fallen through for various reasons, including the pandemic, said Kenneth McGowan, whose family has owned the wharf since the 1800s.

The wharf was built prior to 1807 and has been family-owned since 1859, according to the listing.

“Different people have come and gone. This time we’re hoping to get to the finish line, but it’s never done until the papers are signed,” McGowan said.

Making the decision to sell was difficult, he added.

“It’s been a family thing. My kids were no longer interested in it. It was time to sell. It’s been up and down coming to the decision. We have shareholders and most of the shareholders were eager to do this,” McGowan said.

The buyers are limited to what changes they can make by strict working waterfront zoning rules.

“They like the waterfront, the charm of it. They want to keep it and improve it,” McGowan said.

Benoit said Union Wharf being on the market at the same time actually brought attention to Custom House Wharf and helped attract prospective buyers.

“There was a lot of interest. A lot of different ideas. A lot of potential buyers had big ideas, but with the zoning there’s a limit,” Benoit said. “The buyers are a well-heeled group and they know what they’re doing. It’s important to protect the heritage and the fishing community.”

Custom House Wharf has about 1.5 acres of waterfront property, more than 100,00 square feet of rental space and 3,700 feet of dock space. There’s also development potential on the parking lot at 90 Commercial St., according to the listing on the New England Commercial Property Exchange.

The Custom House Wharf property is designated an “opportunity zone,” which allows investors the possibility of significant tax benefits, the listing said.

Current tenants include Custom House Seafood, Coastal Bait, Harbor Fish Market, Boone's Family Restaurant, the Porthole, Gilbert's Chowder House and Sea Bags, according to the listing.

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