Aroma Joe’s, a regional coffee shop company based in South Portland, may become the second company to locate in Portland Technology Park, almost a decade after the city-owned office development was established.
The Portland City Council on Monday will review a proposed $595,000 sale of almost 3 acres at the park, on the west side of the city bordering Interstate 95.
A sale would require the city to spend at least $662,760 to extend a road and utility lines to the two development plots Aroma Joe’s wants to buy.
Portland Technology Park opened in 2013 and has been marketed as a location to expand a growing biotechnology and life sciences industry in southern Maine. So far, only insurance firm Patrons Oxford has built an office there. The company relocated from Auburn in 2017.
“We knew that we had a growing biosciences cluster in Maine and in the Greater Portland area and thought this would be a great site for the growth of those kind of companies. It just hasn’t turned out to be the case,” said Nelle Hanig, business programs manager at Portland’s housing and economic development department.
The park has no office space to lease, and growing technology companies sometimes do not have the means to invest in new buildings, Hanig said.
“If you don’t have the wherewithal to construct a building, you wouldn’t be able to come to Portland Technology Park at this time,” she said. “That kicks out a lot of smaller companies and biotech companies (that) might want to come to a park like this.”
In other cases, the spaces available for new buildings in the park, from 10,000 to 35,000 square feet, are not big enough for established companies that expect substantial growth.
A planned sale of a unit in the park to Portland biotech firm Capricorn Products fell through after the company was purchased and the new owner decided not to expand in Maine, Hanig said.
But the park’s proximity to the interstate proved attractive to Patrons Oxford, and now to Aroma Joe’s.
“Aroma Joe’s likes the idea (that) it is a moment from the interstate – they will have people coming from all over and folks who have their offices there,” she said.
A sale would mean the city would have to pay to extend the road and utilities to the company’s newly purchased land. The nearly $663,000 estimated cost could be paid for by proceeds from the sale and an allocation from the city’s capital improvement program, the economic development department wrote in a memo to the City Council.
“It is going to cost us the difference to build out the road, but we will be gaining tax benefits from this; it will be creating new jobs,” Hanig said.
The city estimates Aroma Joe’s will pay $21,000 a year in property taxes at its new headquarters.
Aroma Joe’s CEO Loren Goodridge said in an interview last month that the growing company moved out of its offices on Warren Avenue and is subleasing offices in South Portland until it builds a new headquarters. The company, which franchises drive-thru coffee shops, has about 19 employees.
The technology park’s location appealed to Aroma Joe’s, said Goodridge.
It is near the company’s existing offices on Warren Avenue, so its employees won’t have to change their commute, Goodridge said. It is right next to I-95, and also close to the Portland International Jetport.
“We have franchisees coming in for training from all over the country, and we wanted their commute to be convenient,” he said.
Aroma Joe’s hopes to complete the building in 2023 and expects to have 35 employees in the new offices.
According to the city, the new building will be about 12,000 square feet. If the sale is approved, there will be four units in the park remaining on the market.
“I think the preference will always be for quality jobs, and so if a biotech firm comes along, it will provide jobs for scientists and production and management positions that would be highly valued by the city,” Hanig said. “Admittedly, this has moved slowly, it wasn’t an easy site to develop.”
The challenge of building on the Portland site is one of the main reasons the technology park has had trouble attracting developers, Goodridge said. Marine clay is the dominant soil type at the property, and that requires more costly and complicated foundations.
“If you had a normal piece of land you might not have that issue,” he said. “You can’t build on marine clay easily.”