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Environment and Outdoors

Portland’s historic Union Wharf is being sold and preserved for maritime use

Peter Slovinsky
Portland, Maine waterfront.

A growing research institution on Portland's waterfront is buying a historic wharf and promising to preserve it for marine-based activities.

Union Wharf sits roughly in the middle of the line of wharves and waterfront businesses that stretch the length of the city's Commercial Street.

"Union Wharf is the centerpiece, it's the firewall against tourism developments to the east and it's really the center of our working waterfront," said Don Perkins, the CEO of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which was established a few piers down from Union Wharf back in 2005. Since then GMRI has become an influential center for marine science and education, and it's spun off some commercial enterprises that aim to boost sustainable fishing-industry opportunities.

Perkins said when he and institute staff heard that the multi-generational owners of the Union wharf, Charlie and Malcolm Poole, wanted to sell, they were worried that it would get snapped up and developed — accelerating the city's ongoing loss of waterfront access for local fishermen and other maritime businesses.

"It means making sure that the cost of berthage for lobstermen tying up is reasonable,"  Perkins said. "It means making sure the pier is functional for its tenants. That's our commitment."

The Poole family's stake in the wharf goes back generations, and Charlie Poole said that when it came time to find a buyer, stewardship was a big consideration.

"We're looking to hand the baton off to somebody who is going to continue that idea of protecting and promoting and working on the facility, to make sure that businesses that are operating from here have a Grade-A platform be it the water-side or the land-side," Poole said.

GMRI's stake in the health of the city's waterfront economy was clear, he said, and the family accepted its offer even though it was not the highest bid. The Pooles are maintaining ownership of an adjacent Commercial street parcel, though, where a brewery and market are now located.