|By Tux Turkel, Portland Press Herald, Maine|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 7, 2005 - A $100 million Westin Hotel and condominium project that developers say will be among Maine's largest private real-estate ventures is being proposed for the site of the former Jordan's Meats plant in Portland.
The project, according to information obtained by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, would include 150 to 200 hotel rooms and between 60 and 100 luxury condominiums. A banquet facility and parking garage would be part of the 450,000-square-foot complex.
The six-story project would spread out across a city block near the eastern waterfront, between Middle and Fore streets. An upscale restaurant and retail space also would be part of the development. Construction is expected to begin this fall. The hotel could open early in 2007.
The privately financed project is being developed by PME I Limited Partnership. The joint venture brings together the Liberty Companies, a diversified South Portland corporation, and The Procaccianti Group, a hotel developer based in Cranston, R.I. The project was conceived by Michael Liberty, chairman of the Liberty Companies, who initiated the two-acre land purchase and assembled the project team.
Members of that team are expected to provide details of the project, including images that suggest how the buildings would fit into the site, at a news conference in Portland City Hall this afternoon. Participants are expected to include Andrew Bedard, vice president of new development at the Liberty Cos., and James Stanley, president and chief executive officer of Liberty Group Inc.
Today's presentation has been widely anticipated since February, when word spread that Liberty was interested in buying the defunct factory, tearing it down and redeveloping the site.
The property is a high-visibility location that's central to Portland's ongoing redevelopment plans. It abuts Franklin Arterial, the direct corridor from Interstate 295 to the harbor. Its opposite flank runs along India Street, a revived commercial strip near the pending Ocean Gateway cruise ship terminal.
Liberty was a driving force in southern Maine's real estate boom in the 1980s, although his company hasn't developed a project in Portland since then. But Liberty has kept an eye on the Jordan's Meats property. It's across Franklin Arterial from 100 Middle Street Plaza, the office complex his company built in 1985.
The proposed Westin, with 150 to 200 rooms, would be among the largest hotels in Portland. By comparison, the Holiday Inn by the Bay, the state's largest hotel, has 239 rooms; the Eastland Park Hotel has 202. If the 100 or so condominium units are counted, the new Westin complex would exceed the number of rooms in those developments.
By another measure, the massive convention center complex being proposed a few blocks away by developer Joe Boulos would have 250 hotel rooms and a 17-story office tower, one story lower than the neighboring Franklin Towers housing project.
The recent surge of new hotel rooms on the Portland peninsula has led to speculation about a glut of accommodations in the city. But in a brief interview Wednesday, Bedard said that concern wasn't shared by the development team.
His view was echoed by Boulos, who said a market study done for his proposal found sufficient demand. He pointed out that the 120-room Hilton Garden Inn, located on Commercial Street within sight of the Jordan's Meats property, is doing well.
Boulos said he hadn't seen details of the Westin plan and couldn't comment on whether it would have any impact on his proposal. His most pressing concern, he said, was convincing lawmakers to pass a meals-and-lodging tax to help finance the convention center and other public spaces. Gov. John Baldacci is expected to introduce such legislation this month.
The Westin's developers also will promote the complex as a boost for Maine's economy, highlighting the construction and service jobs it would create.
They are expected to hire Planning Decisions Inc. of South Portland to study the project's economic impact on the region and state. Charles Lawton, a senior economist at the firm, will conduct the study. Lawton writes a weekly column on Maine's economy for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
City officials are expected to have their first formal look at the project May 10, at a planning board workshop. Developers also say they will meet with community leaders and neighborhood residents.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Portland Press Herald, Maine
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