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Portland affordable housing group acquires eastern waterfront property

144 Fore Street as seen from the sky, shot by drone.

Portland-based LIHC Investment Group bought 144-152 Fore St. for $8.3 million, with an eye toward being in the midst of the eastern waterfront’s burgeoning revitalization.

source: Mainebiz • on: February 12, 2021 • by: Laurie Schreiber

A Portland-based firm that specializes in affordable housing projects acquired a flex office/industrial building that’s in the midst of burgeoning revitalization on the eastern waterfront.

LIHC Investment Group bought 144-152 Fore St. from Jackrabbit LLC for $8.3 million.

Mac Simpson of Porta & Co. represented the seller and Joseph Porta of Porta & Co. represented the buyer.

Located at the base of Munjoy Hill, the property comprises a 43,210-square-foot building on 1.54 acres. It was built in 1963 and renovated in 1990.

“We are excited to be a part of the revitalization of Portland’s historic Eastern Waterfront,” Andrew Gendron, a principal with LIHC Investment Group, said in a news release. “Over the past five years, we’ve watched businesses, employees and new sources of investment breathe new life into one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. As a Portland-based company, we’ve been searching for more ways to get involved and found that opportunity in 144 Fore St.”

Gendron said the property occupies a prime position amid ongoing waterfront revitalization projects in the area.

144 Fore Street as seen from the sky, shot by drone.

The property was marketed as an opportunity zone development site.

Nearby housing complex

LIHC’s holdings in downtown Portland include Munjoy South Apartments, a nearby affordable housing complex of 140 units spread across 29 townhouses overlooking the harbor.

Founded more than 25 years ago, LIHC (formerly Low Income Housing Corp.) is managed by Andrew and Charlie Gendron, according to its website. Charlie Gendron has been active in the affordable housing industry since 1986. LIHC has been involved in affordable housing projects in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and elsewhere, according to its website.

LIHC noted that 144 Fore St. is surrounded by a business hub that includes Tilson, WEX, Covetrus, Bernstein Shur, Baker Newman Noyes, Cashstar and the Beacon Group. The eastern waterfront is home to the city’s passenger port with Casco Bay Island ferry service, international ferry service and cruise ship facilities; and to several new corporate headquarters and plans are underway to infuse the area with new housing options, Class-A office projects, retail, restaurants and public open spaces.

Commercial development in the area, in recent years, has included WEX Inc.’s new headquarters and will eventually include Sun Life Financial Inc.’s new 100,000-square-foot office complex.

Last fall, a panel of developers for projects on Portland’s eastern waterfront said residential projects are key to continued development in that slice of the peninsula.

“Located 100 miles north of Boston, Portland is considered the epicenter of the Maine economy with its greater community experiencing a boom in population in recent years,” LIHC said.

The firm doesn’t yet have specific plans for the property, said its spokesperson, Kelly Magee of Rivet Public Relations.

“They’re exploring their options,” she said.

Opportunity zone

The seller is a long-time Portland restaurateur and real estate investor who was ready to retire and dispose of his assets, said Simpson.

“Originally, he was looking for us to lease the property, but was open to a sale,” Simpson said. “So we looked for qualified buyers.”

The property is located in Portland’s port area opportunity zone. The federal opportunity zone tax incentive program, established in 2017, was designed to encourage long-term investments in low-income communities.

“There were a number of investors, both local and national, that were interested,” he continued.

That included folks from as far as Texas and California.

The interest speaks to the attractions of Portland and Southern Maine, he noted.

“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing capital move from low capitalization areas like New York City and Boston in search of higher yields,” Simpson said. “And now, in conjunction with people looking to live here or work remotely from here, we’re seeing capital continue to move in from more expensive markets to Portland’s relatively less expensive market.”

The $8.3 million price tag is considered quite good for Portland waterfront, he added. On a per-square-foot basis for the type of building, it was above the market average. That was all the more notable, he added, given the complexity of the site, which included active construction on nearby lots and roads and various vacancy timelines among tenants. That included architecture and engineering firm SMRT, which moved last year to new offices at 75 Washington Ave. in Portland; and the U.S. Veterans Administration.

“It wasn’t an easy deal,” said Simpson. “There were a lot of moving parts.”

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