What Portland truly hopes to avoid at the city-owned Maine State Pier is a nasty real estate experience called, quite astutely, “the runaround.” Development projects go belly up when developers, in an effort to win favor, offer unrealistic deals. Then, when these overly enthusiastic developers actually prevail, the reality of financial investment inspires a more thorough examination of the numbers. If things don’t look as good as they did at the outset they may throw up their hands, leaving the deal dead in the water. And so we have “the runaround.”

The city’s request-for-proposal (RFP) guidelines Maine State Pier were finalized the evening of Oct. 11, and setting a timetable for submissions took a fair amount of discussion during the nearly five-hour meeting. The final result is a 120-day deadline — and although it will take through nearly the end of October to type up all the fine print, developers must return bids by Feb. 22.

Some developers say this simply isn’t sufficient time to evaluate a complicated situation and deliver a proposal that not only will win, but also get built.

“There was lengthy discussion about whether there would be a prolonged engineering and public process before a proposal could be submitted,” said James Cloutier, head of Portland’s Community Development Committee. “One of the developers thought this was true, but it’s not. Usually it takes 30 to 60 days to advertise a project, but we’re giving this one four months and anyone who’s really needed an extension has always been granted one.”

Kevin Mahaney, president and CEO of Olympia Companies, expressed concern before the RFP was finalized. “We have a tremendous concern that we will have an appropriate amount of time to respond effectively to the RFP — we believe we need nine months,” said Mahaney, whose company owns the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel on Commercial Street just a stone’s throw away from Maine State Pier. “We told the city that we were against the rezoning [the pier], but then said if you’re going to rezone, give us a chance to participate — you already have another company with all their ducks in a row.”

Ocean Properties Ltd., a large hotel development company based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for example, expressed an interest in redeveloping Maine State Pier last summer — months before the city’s property was first rezoned to allow a hotel. Ocean Properties already has expertise, particularly in Key West, in managing waterfront properties adjacent to high-speed ferries and the company months ago retained an architect to review possibilities for Maine State Pier: TMS Architects of Portsmouth, which was responsible for extensive renovations to historic Wentworth by the Sea. With understatement, Bob Baldacci, Ocean Properties’ vice president of development, says, “Yes, we are weighing whether to put in a proposal.”

The request for proposals for redeveloping Maine State pier stipulates a complete outline for redevelopment and reconstruction, including potential users. The accepted proposal must accommodate Portland Harbor’s tugboat fleet, offices of The Cat high-speed ferry and queuing lines for the new Ocean Gateway cruise-ship terminal.

“The developer should expect to spend $10-$15 million over 15 years,” notes Cloutier, referring to the need for maintenance underneath the pier (WWF Sept. 06).

In other words, according to Ellen Sanborn, assistant finance director, “Whoever leases the pier will take care of what’s underneath.”