PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council on Monday night agreed to a deal that will allow Auburn-based Patrons Oxford Insurance Co. to relocate to Maine’s largest city.
The agreement represents a milestone as the long-awaited first tenant of the much ballyhooed Portland Technology Park, touted at its opening in September 2013 as a key capacity builder in the city’s efforts to accommodate new businesses.
“This is a watershed moment for the Portland Technology Park,” Mayor Michael Brennan said during the council meeting Monday. “This has been under council consideration for a number of years, and we have been actively marketing the park. We believe this is an important component in developing Portland.”
Phase I of Portland Technology Park consists of a 975-foot road and three development sites, accessible in part by Exit 47 off the Maine Turnpike and the Rand Road. The project was financed by the U.S. Economic Development Administration with $695,000 in matching funds contributed by the city of Portland.
City Economic Development Director Gregory Mitchell said Patrons Oxford Insurance CEO Mark Pettingill attended an earlier city workshop Monday and was looking specifically for relocation sites with highway access.
“This is a business we would not have otherwise captured if not for the Portland Technology Park,” Mitchell said.
“Our search committee has been exploring the future stages of growth that will satisfy our needs for a location that can accommodate our increasing staff of professionals as well as place us in an area of growing economic development,” Pettingill said in a statement. “The work that the city of Portland has done with the development of the Portland Technology Park will offer us an opportunity to be located near the turnpike, move into an environmentally responsible building, and take advantage of the technological infrastructure available.”
The sale of the 3.47-acre Unit 1 in the park to the nearly 138-year-old Patrons Oxford Insurance for $625,000 will almost offset the city’s investment, and the company will pay an estimated $60,000 in annual property taxes on top of the purchase amount.
Because of nearly $44,000 in commercial broker fees, the city will receive a net payment to the city that will be just over $581,000.
The insurance company plans to relocate its 40 employees and construct a 20,000-square-foot headquarters at the Portland location with the potential for expansion in staffing and space.
But the fact that the inaugural entry to the park will be an insurance company — not a technology firm — drew some criticism from members of the public Monday night.
“What happened to the biotechnology aspect of this park?” local resident Steven Scharf asked. “We got national press that we opened this amazing biotechnology park, and now we’ve got this insurance company whose one criteria was that they wanted to be near the turnpike.”
Fellow resident Robert Hains, who like Scharf is a regular council meeting attendee and commenter, said the city should have insisted the insurance company pick up some of the broker’s fees.
“It shows desperation on the part of the city,” Hains told the council.
Phase II of the park, which is expected begin after the build-out of Phase I, will extend the road by 525 feet and will include the clearing of four additional development sites. Construction in the park is required by the city to meet U.S. Green Building Council LEED environmental friendly standards.