The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on WEX Global Corporate Headquarters, Portland

In a multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Our 2019 Top 7 recipients include:

62 Spring Street, Auburn, Anew Development / Auburn Housing
Founders Place Campus, Bangor, Bangor Savings Bank / CJ Developers
Cape Arundel Cottage Preserve, Arundel, Arundel-Kennebunkport Cottage Preserve, LLC
WEX Global Corporate Headquarters, Portland, Jonathan S. Cohen – 0 Hancock Street, LLC
Hannaford Center, Hampden, Good Shepherd Food Bank
Southgate, Scarborough, Avesta Housing
Station Square, Gorham, Great Falls Construction

MEREDA’s Board intended to honor the award winners at the 35th Anniversary Gala. Originally scheduled for the end of March 2020, the Gala was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Though they may have their formal award delayed, these projects have only gained practical significance as they serve their communities–especially under additional strain and stress of these unprecedented times.  We look forward to formally recognizing these recipients at a future MEREDA event.

Please join us this week in celebrating WEX Global Corporate Headquarters in Portland.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Jonathan Cohen:  WEX’s new Global Corporate Headquarters building in Portland was a collaborative effort between WEX, project developer, design firms Archetype Architects (core & shell) and SMRT Architects & Engineers (interiors), construction manager Cianbro Corporation, and me as project developer. The result is a four-story, 116,000-square-foot, mixed-use facility, with a 19,000-square-foot rooftop deck, 5,000 square feet of retail space, and a mechanical penthouse.

The foundation consists of concrete piers and grade beams on steel h-piles, while the building’s exterior skin features a glass curtain wall system with metal panels. The interior includes high-end finishes such as stone tile flooring, stained oak walls and ceilings, glass walls, and a 700-gallon saltwater aquarium. The building boasts modern amenities incorporating open-office workspaces with traditional enclosed office spaces, indoor and outdoor dining and break areas, showers, and bike lockers. The rooftop patio encourages dining, recreation, and social events.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project? 

Jonathan Cohen:  I had recently purchased the Ocean Gateway Garage as well as 100 Fore Street (formerly Hamilton Marine), and knew that WEX had been trying to locate in Portland for many years and reached out with the 100 Fore street site. During the process, the city lot on the corner of Hancock and Thames became available through an RFP process and WEX, Archetype, and I worked together to be the successful respondent with their design.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Jonathan Cohen:  The total time from design to permit was less than eight months; it was a fast track project.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

Jonathan Cohen: As with the majority of construction projects, the most challenging aspect of getting a project completed is picking the right members of your team. One of the reasons why the sign at the site during construction had every subcontractor involved in the project was to thank and recognize their valuable contribution to getting this project done as quickly and safely as we did. More than 800 construction workers in the southern Maine community worked on this project. The total time from city permit in October to occupancy 15 months late was a major challenge and a tribute to all that worked on the project.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was…

Jonathan Cohen:  The positive impact that we had on the immediately surrounding area, the way that the construction team embraced the planning required, and the impact that this project has had in leading the way for other similar projects in the area. We successfully proved that it could be done in Portland. Which is why the same team is working together on the 100 Fore Street office building and parking garage right now.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Jonathan Cohen:  It is hard to pick just one feature of the project. The exterior of the building is very much like the buildings of the Boston Seaport: curtain wall and Alucobond panels, the massive rooftop deck, the automated shade system, the impact on the city’s waterline and skyline; it is one of the most visible buildings when flying into Portland. I guess what I as the developer would pick as most notable would be the more than 800 jobs created during construction and the more than 400 permanent jobs sustained. WEX now greets cruise ship passengers and other visitors with a polished, professional, and modern look befitting Portland and other great cities around the world. A great place to Live and Work in Maine.

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