Developers are trying to turn a historic Portland landmark into dozens of sorely needed apartments, though the current plan doesn’t include any that would be considered workforce housing.

The redevelopment of 465 Congress St., which has been called the city’s “first skyscraper,” will be an extensive and expensive undertaking for the new owners. The price tag may increase by nearly $3 million if the developers proceed with plans to not include any workforce housing units.

The People’s United Bank Building, overlooking Monument Square, sold in June 2019 for $9.2 million to two out-of-state real estate investment groups. Initially they planned to make improvements and market the building to commercial tenants, in keeping with the property’s century-long use as offices and commercial space.

But the owners – Alta Properties of Newton, Massachusetts, and Connecticut River Capital of Lebanon, New Hampshire – have since pivoted and now plan to convert the 10-story building into 63 one- and two-bedroom market-rate apartments. 

The People’s United Bank building at 465 Congress St. was Portland’s first skyscraper. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

According to city ordinance, any projects with 10 or more new residential units must reserve at least 25% of those units as workforce housing or pay a per-unit fee. According to materials at a Tuesday meeting of the Portland Planning Board, the companies intend to pay a fee of just over $172,000 apiece for the required 15.75 workforce apartments, at a total cost of about $2.7 million.

The developers do have the option to reverse that decision and build workforce housing later in the process. 


Stephen Bushey, an engineer with engineering firm Gorrill Palmer, said the units will not be considered luxury apartments, but will have mid- to upper-grade finishes and be “better than average.”

Alta Properties and Connecticut River Capital did not respond to an email with questions about the estimated rents for the units or the decision not to include workforce housing.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development deems fair market rent in Portland as $1,448 a month for a one-bedroom and $1,859 for a two-bedroom, though real estate company Zillow lists the median rent in the city as $1,986 for a one-bedroom and $2,421 for a two-bedroom. 

Portland is in the midst of a housing crisis, faced with a lack of housing in general, and an even greater lack of affordable housing.

Even though most – if not all – of the apartments will be market-rate, Planning Board members said they were glad to see the historic building would become housing, especially as many commercial offices sit vacant in the era of remote work.

The plans also received the stamp of approval from Greater Portland Landmarks. 


“Not only is the prospective project going to reactivate this iconic building and make a historic property again a vibrant piece of the city’s built environment, but it will add much-needed housing,” C. Ian Stevenson, director of advocacy, told the board in written testimony. “This project thus showcases the ways in which historic preservation can plan an important role in solving some of the city’s pressing problems.”

While property records show the property sold for $9.2 million, the owners have declined to disclose the estimated cost of renovations. The building is eligible for historic tax credits.

In order to comply with residential building code requirements, the developers will build a 170-foot-tall enclosed staircase at the rear of the building. The staircase received Historic Preservation Board approval in November.

People’s United Bank, which was acquired last year and is now known as M&T Bank, will remain on the first floor. There are no plans for additional off-street parking. 

Dating to 1909 and for a time the tallest building in the city, 465 Congress St. is a registered Portland historic landmark.

It has changed hands numerous times over the years, and was previously known as the Fidelity Trust Co. Building. It features lavish details such as a marble-accented lobby with vaulted ceilings and pillars, ornamental accents on its limestone exterior and expansive views.

The building stands across Preble Street from another landmark, the Time and Temperature Building, which is being redeveloped as a luxury hotel.

Also on Congress Street, developers are working to redevelop the block immediately east of City Hall into another hotel, along with retail space and nearly 300 condominiums.

A few blocks away on Federal Street, construction is nearing an end on what will be the tallest building in Maine, an 18-story mixed-use structure that will offer first-floor commercial space and 266 apartments. Of those, 27 will be reserved for affordable housing.

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