Business cluster slated for Portland's Maine State Pier as city partners with Icelandic group

Markets Associated Press

The state's largest city is working with a group of international and local investors to transform part of a building on the Maine State Pier into a cluster of businesses with a focus on marine enterprises.

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The project is called the New England Ocean Cluster House, and it is the product of a partnership between Portland officials and investors located here and in Iceland. City officials and investors on Tuesday announced the plan to potentially locate dozens of new businesses in the city-owned building on the pier.

The city is working with the investors to determine a lease agreement for the facility, which also needs a host of infrastructure improvements, Mayor Michael Brennan said. The business cluster would be located in the now-vacant, 30,000-square-foot second floor of a building locally famous for the mural of whales that adorns its outside wall.

The city wants the facility to be a business incubator that allows startups and spinoff companies to thrive in a cooperative environment, said Gregory Mitchell, the city's economic development director.

"It will convince young people to commit to Portland when they might not commit to Portland," Mitchell said.

Thor Sigfusson, who runs the similar Iceland Ocean Cluster in Reykjavik, is working with South Portland-based maritime firm Soli DG Inc. to create the facility. Eighteen businesses have expressed an interest in locating their operations in the facility, said Patrick Arnold, president of Soli DG. Sigfusson said the Iceland facility opened in 2012 and now has more than 40 businesses, including offices of food truck vendors and marine research firms.

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Iceland's ambassador to the U.S., Geir Haarde, and U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Robert Barber also attended the event Tuesday at the United States Customhouse in Portland. Haarde, who is also Iceland's former prime minister, said the country wants to help the Portland cluster house "make things evolve."

Brennan said the city's Housing & Community Development Committee will begin discussing lease negotiations next week. Arnold said construction of the new facility's infrastructure could begin by late summer.