Two properties close to the Preble Street day shelter and soup kitchen in Portland’s Bayside section – 19 Preble St., right, and 255 Oxford St., the yellow building at left – are now owned by T International Realty LLC. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

A mystery developer is buying up properties in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood as part of an ambitious, long-term plan to rebrand and remake an area that has long been home to a network of social service agencies.

Recent purchases near the Preble Street day shelter and soup kitchen generated buzz online this week after it became known that the buyer is a company named T International Realty – the same name used by the family of President Trump for several companies registered in other states.

Speculation about the Trump family’s possible interest in Bayside real estate was welcomed by Josh Soley, who is listed as an authorized agent for the Maine-based limited liability company. He would neither confirm nor deny an affiliation with the Trumps when questioned about the deal Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I think speculation is great,” said Soley, 23, on Wednesday. “I think any attention is good, whether it’s about the owners, or whether it’s about what’s going on here, or whether about rebranding the area – I think any attention is good.”

NO AFFILIATION WITH TRUMP GROUP

Despite the speculation, however, public documents filed in Maine and several other states where the Trumps own properties revealed differences and raised doubts. In other states, Trump companies typically list their New York City address and name their managers, including Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. The Maine-based T International Realty lists a Portland address and only Soley and his brother, Daniel Soley, as authorized agents.

On Wednesday afternoon, Josh Soley’s father, David Soley, an attorney representing T International Realty, confirmed in an email that the group has “no affiliation whatsoever with The Trump Organization or its affiliates.”

A representative with The Trump Organization also said in an email Wednesday afternoon that it was not involved in the project, but did not answer questions about whether it was concerned about someone using the same name.

Josh Soley said he is the broker and manager for the Maine company. He and others representing the company declined to answer questions about who owns and controls it, saying the developer or developers want to remain anonymous.

“I’m overseeing everything going on in Maine,” he said.

When asked why the group chose the same name as a Trump affiliate, Soley said those questions would need to be answered by the members, whom he would not name.

Soley, who launched his own real estate firm called Maine Realty Advisors this year, said T International Realty is looking to rebrand the 19 Portland St. block, which includes Preble Street’s day shelter and soup kitchen, and rename it the “Flat Iron Block.”

EYEING PREBLE STREET’S PROPERTY

The company is currently gutting the first floor of the apartment building at 19 Portland St. and will begin advertising for a retail tenant, he said. Next week, he plans to begin advertising for retail tenants at 255 Oxford St., an apartment building across the street.

Soley said the subsidized housing there will stay – at least for now. According to the city’s rental registry, 19 Portland St. has nine residential units and 255 Oxford St. has 17.

Soley said the group is looking to position itself for a major redevelopment, should Preble Street ever leave downtown. Preble Street is a nonprofit agency that has long anchored a variety of social services in the Bayside neighborhood.

“Right now, we’re looking to buy everything possible in the area,” Soley said. “I do know that if Preble Street were to leave, we would immediately look at buying that property as well.”

Preble Street has no plans to leave its location at 5 Portland St. anytime soon, Executive Director Mark Swann said. He said Preble Street would re-evaluate if the city ever moves its adult homeless shelter, which is located a block away on Oxford Street.

“There’s no imminent plan to move,” Swann said. “If the Oxford Street Shelter moves, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Soley said the owners of the properties want to remain anonymous to avoid any potential negative publicity or criticism from residents who might be unhappy with the group’s long-range plans, which would include market-rate housing.

“Portland is very judgmental,” Soley said. “Any attention on this project is going to be construed as negative.”

Most developers form LLCs for individual development projects and their names are disclosed on certificates of formation filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. So it’s unusual for an owner to go through such lengths to remain totally anonymous.

Soley and his brother, Daniel Soley, are the only two authorized parties on the Maine company’s filed certificate. And both of their names have appeared on mortgages associated with the purchase of 19 Portland St.

However, Josh Soley said the company has an operating agreement with the real owners that is not public.

“I wouldn’t say there’s been great lengths being taken at all,” he said of the owner’s efforts to remain anonymous. “I think it’s pretty standard for developers to not want to be bothered by the media or the people in the area.”

Soley is the grandson of Joe Soley, who purchased many buildings in the Old Port before it became a shopping, drinking and dining mecca. Joe Soley, who has a history of clashes with city officials, also owns the People’s United Bank building, which is a block from Preble Street.

Josh Soley’s two uncles – Tim and Jack – are also well-known real estate developers and managers. Tim Soley is the president of East Brown Cow Management, and Jack is a partner who also does his own independent property developments. Both said they are not involved with their nephew’s Bayside project.

‘FUTURE OF PORTLAND REAL ESTATE’

Last year, Tim Soley added solar panels to his Fore Street parking garage to power the nearby Hyatt Hotel. And in 2016, he floated the idea of building a 20-story building on an undeveloped portion of the block bounded by Union, Middle, Exchange and Fore streets, but never submitted any formal plans.

More recently, Jack Soley submitted a successful bid to redevelop 60 Parris St. into workforce condominiums. It’s believed to be the first time such a project has been proposed in Portland without relying on a government subsidy. Jack Soley said he is not involved with his nephews’ project.

The Parris Street property, which is two blocks from Preble Street, is part of the city’s former public works campus in Bayside. The city has chosen developers for four of the six sites and is still negotiating with potential buyers for the others.

The city is currently seeking a location for a larger overnight emergency shelter to replace the old, cramped quarters at Oxford Street. It also has stepped up efforts to address nuisance behavior in the area, although residents say more needs to be done.

For Josh Soley and his anonymous clients, it’s only a matter of time before Bayside begins seeing some of the rapid development activity overtaking much of the peninsula.

“It’s been an eyesore on this entire peninsula,” Soley said. “And I think with the future movement of the facilities down here – the soup kitchen and the Oxford Street shelter – this area is going to be the future of Portland real estate.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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