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June 16, 2015

Wharf owner chooses Portland Science Center over office tenant to fill last vacancy

Image / Courtesy of The Gold Group An artist's rendering of 68 Commercial St. in Portland.

The owner of Maine Wharf in Portland said it’s gratifying to fill the property’s last vacancy with the Portland Science Center after facing skeptics of his redevelopment plans.

“This is not the first property I've acquired where people questioned my sanity,” Stephen Goodrich, the property’s owner and former Powerpay CEO, told Mainebiz. “But decent instincts and vision have kept us on the right side of things.”

Portland Exhibits LLC, a subsidiary of Salem, Mass.-based The Gold Group, announced earlier this month that it will open the Portland Science Center in mid- to late-July in the second and third floors of a roughly 23,000-square-foot commercial building at 68-72 Commercial Street on the wharf. Restaurateurs Sam Hayward and Dana Street are expected to open a new restaurant, Scales, with up to 120 dining room seats on the first floor, by the end of the summer. Casco Bay Artisans, an art gallery, is already operating on the building’s first floor.

Goodrich, who has acquired and redeveloped other formerly delinquent properties in Portland, purchased the Maine Wharf for $2.1 million in June 2013, according to city assessor records. The sale closed after Goodrich had entered a lease with a purchase option with the wharf’s previous owner, Eric Cianchette, less than a year before.

At the time, Goodrich acknowledged in a October 2012 Portland Press Herald story that some people were skeptical of his ability to redevelop the wharf, but knew that he has proven skeptics wrong in the past with projects like the former Portland Public Market, which he bought and transformed into Powerpay’s headquarters.

Now, more than $4 million in rehabilitation costs and a few years later, Goodrich’s decision to buy the wharf seems to be paying off. The Portland Science Center has already been hailed by Portland Mayor Mike Brennan as a “welcome and unique addition to the many great destination attractions” in Portland, with plans to hire around 20 full- and part-time workers. Scales has also received local hype from those who know of Hayward’s and Street’s other restaurant ventures, including Fore Street.

Goodrich said he had received an offer from an office tenant for 68 Commercial St.’s second and third floors, but ultimately decided to go with Portland Science Center as the development’s final puzzle piece. He said he opted to lease with the science center because it’s expected to generate more foot traffic and not create as much demand for parking.

“It will generate usage that will not create the same stress on the building as an office tenant would so we felt that [the Portland Science Center] was a good use for the wharf,” he said.

Even better, Goodrich said, it will make a positive contribution to Portland, giving locals and tourists just one more reason to visit downtown.

Joe Gold, principal for The Gold Group, said 68 Commercial St. was the best candidate for the Portland Science Center. He said the building was able to accommodate all of the center’s needs to feature traveling science exhibitions, with at least 15,000 square feet of space, no less than 10-foot ceilings and an accessible load-in area.

Gold indicated that the Portland Science Center could have as much of a draw for locals as it could have for tourists, noting his company’s experience with booking exhibitions on the second floor of Faneuil Hall in Boston.

“What we found is 80% of our business was local” for the first six months exhibitions were held, Gold said. “People had been coming down who hadn’t been there for so many years.”

Steve Bauman, managing partner at Compass Commercial Brokers, represents Goodrich as the property’s broker and acknowledges that Goodrich could have opted for the office tenant and helped address the city’s tight high-quality office market. But instead, Bauman said, Goodrich decided to go with a tenant that will attract more activity downtown.

“I love how he thinks and he’s more global in that he’s thinking about the big picture,” Bauman said. “He was looking at the whole area, which is pretty impressive.”

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