A Portland City Council committee has endorsed South Portland-based Wex Inc.’s plan to build a new global headquarters on city-owned land near Portland’s eastern waterfront.

A developer working with Wex has been competing for the right to buy a roughly 48,000-square-foot lot along Thames Street across from the Ocean Gateway building. The developer, Jonathan Cohen of 0 Hancock Street LLC, said he plans to work with Wex to construct a new headquarters building that would house at least 450 employees initially, with 200 more joining over time as the company grows.

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee announced it has chosen Cohen’s plan over a competing bid by a developer who wants to build two mixed-use buildings on the lot. After the city received two proposals for the land in the spring, staff working with the council comittee negotiated a tentative purchase and sale agreement for $3.3 million.

The proposed Wex headquarters building would stand across the street from the Ocean Gate cruise ship terminal, whose roof is in the foreground of this concept rendering. Rendering courtesy of Wex Inc.

The three-member committee will hold a public meeting on Aug. 1 to discuss the agreement with Cohen and get public feedback. The full council must approve the deal and is expected to take it up at its Aug. 21 meeting.

Wex is a payment processing company that provides payment services for vehicle fleets, online travel services and health care and employee benefits providers. The company has a global workforce of 2,700 employees – including 800 in Maine, up from 750 a year earlier. A significant number of employees would remain in South Portland even if the Portland plan goes through.

“We’re looking forward to hearing from the public regarding the committee’s selected development proposal and our purchase and sale agreement,” City Councilor David Brenerman, chair of the city’s Economic Development Committee, said in a written statement. “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.

City Manager Jon Jennings praised the agreement Friday morning during an interview on WGAN radio. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our restaurants and hotels and everything – to bring more people into the city,” he said.

If approved as expected, the Wex headquarters would be a four-story, 100,000-square-foot building at the corner of Hancock and Thames Street. The first floor would include 10,000 square feet of retail space as well as office space for Wex. All of the upper floors would be designated as office space for Wex.

Between 450 and 550 new surface and structured parking spaces would be constructed within 750 feet of the Thames Street site to accommodate the company’s needs and increased demand for public parking in Portland’s East End, the city said.

The Thames Street property is zoned for a maximum building height of 45 feet, with some allowances up to 55 feet.

Wex President and CEO Melissa Smith has said that although Wex would continue to maintain a strong presence in South Portland, having its global headquarters on Portland’s waterfront would bring value to Portland and serve as a recruiting tool for the fast-growing technology company.

Cohen’s company initially offered $2.5 million for the parcel, while the competing developer, Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership, offered $3.1 million. Cohen, who owns AD&W Architectural Doors and Windows in Westbrook, has developed numerous properties in Maine.

The Atlantic Bayside/Jackrabbit partnership has proposed a development of two mixed-use buildings with about 165,000 square feet of office, residential and retail space, along with a 382-car parking garage.

 

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