Southern Maine roundup: Scarborough real estate heats up; Sanford upgrades broadband network

BY Peter Van Allen

Rendering / Courtesy of Caleb Johnson studio
Rendering / Courtesy of Caleb Johnson studio
The Downs in Scarborough will include an innovation park, housing and a town center.

SCARBOROUGH — An 80-acre parcel will be set aside as an industrial and business park in the redevelopment of Scarborough Downs.

The Innovation Park at The Downs will be a specially zoned business park at the north end of the 500-acre mixed-use development, which will have housing, a town center and retail. The redevelopment is being led by Roccy Risbara of Risbara Bros. Construction in Scarborough.

The business park is a new wrinkle in the redevelopment, which has been widely reported on in the past year. The innovation park was introduced at the recent MEREDA conference. The Boulos Co. is handling leasing.

Drew Sigfridson, managing director of Boulos, told Mainebiz the business park “is trying to hit that unmet need for light-industrial space.”

“We looked at where is the market today? Let's hit where the demand is today,” he says.

Potential uses could be for food processing, brewery, R&D sites, high-tech facilities, manufacturing and assembly, warehouse or medical or diagnostic site.

Sigfridson says he's already heard from a food producer, a tech company and a manufacturer — seeking square footage from 15,000 to 50,000.

The site will also provide a blank slate for companies needing custom space, with an option to lease or buy.

“We have owners of companies coming to us saying there are no buildings for sale,” Sigfridson says. “A lot of companies need specialization — in ceiling heights, parking, power demands, office space. You can go find a building and renovated it but renovation can be as much as new [construction].”

The site has already received zoning approvals. New construction would need a site plan approval from the town of Scarborough.

A key selling point of the business park will be its proximity to the Maine Turnpike, which would be less than five minutes away. The redevelopment of Scarborough Downs presented an unusual opportunity — a 500-acre clean slate in the middle of one of the most densely developed parts of Maine.

Utilities will include three-phase power, city water and sewer, natural gas and fiber optic network. Sites (and zoning) will allow for buildings of 5,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet. Construction is expected to start this spring.

SANFORD — With a downtown mill complex, 600 acres of industrial parks and 80 other concentrations of businesses, city officials here recognized the need to have a strong fiber optic network.

What may be unusual here is the way the city funded the 45-mile network, which is operated by Biddeford-based GWI.

Of the $1.5 million needed for the upgrade, Sanford secured $769,209 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Rather than going to taxpayers for the rest, the city turned to its inventory of unused properties. It raised the money by selling surplus properties, including the former Emerson School. As the city likes to say, there was no increase in taxes to build this project.

The high-speed system is expected to make Sanford more attractive to potential businesses and increase productivity at existing businesses.

At the time the project was announced in 2016, Mayor Thomas P. Cote cited the need for a “competitive edge and a differentiating factor when it comes to competing with other cities and towns for economic development and the workforce needed to support that growth.”

Fast forward to 2019, the project is just getting underway, Cote tells Mainebiz.

“The network is officially under construction, we started on Jan. 11 of this year and it will take about four months to complete. There have been countless hurdles to overcome and our planning and make-ready estimates took nearly a year to complete,” he says, adding that “City Manager Steve Buck and his team have navigated uncharted waters here in Maine to make this happen.”

The funding approach has been watched as part of a study of digital inclusion by the Post Road Foundation. The city has been approached by cell carriers for 5G installations, and Consolidated Communications and Atlantic Broadband have “favorably amended their pricing structures and offered long term plans to capture and retain clients,” Cote says. Sanford will begin installation with Maine Department of Transportation of new traffic lights starting in 2020 which will be interconnected and controlled using the fiber network, a first of its design in Maine.

If things continue on pace, Cote says Sanford will “light the fiber network” in April.

“It's an exciting time for Sanford, we are tremendously proud of SanfordNet Fiber and see the network as an economic engine for the city,” Cote says.

SCARBOROUGH — Higgins Beach is undergoing significant changes, with new vacation houses popping up on nearly every street.

While teardowns have been common practice in other vacation markets, Maine still does not have a lot of areas where this is happening.

But the past two years, there have been at least a dozen new houses to go up, in most cases they replaced older summer cottages. There are 361 “cottages” in the Higgins Beach area, which is part of the town of Scarborough. There are at least six houses under construction now — most replacing an older cottage.

One recent example: An older house at 15 Vesper St., a block from the ocean, sold for $650,000, according to Steve Seabury, a broker at Re/MAX Oceanside in Cape Elizabeth. The new owners tore down everything but the stone fireplace, which on a recent day stood on its own, wrapped in plastic. The new owners will build a custom house around the original fireplace, which was built for $300, Seabury says.

While the newer houses are fully winterized and are built to last, the owners may limit use to summer and off-season holidays.

“Most are sold to out-of-state people with a connection to Higgins Beach — they grew up spending summers here or visiting,” says Seabury. “They're not coming here because they heard Portland is a dining destination.”

There are still about 15 to 20 houses in that are in original condition and have never been winterized. Their days may be numbered.

The same group of out-of-state visitors keeps a close watch on what may be coming on the market, Seabury says.

“They wait for it, they pounce and they rebuild,” he says.

He says he can recall only “three or four” recent sales to buyers who will live at Higgins year round.

There are also existing homes on the market that appear to be in move-in condition, or could be due for some updating but would not be a teardown: A four-bedroom contemporary at 12 Ashton St. is listed at $1.2 million, while a two-bedroom house at 14 Shipwreck Road has an asking price of $1.35 million.

Of the 361 cottages at Higgins, there are about 30 that are owned by someone who has more than one house there. While the rental market is hugely importantly here, Airbnb is not a major factor, at least for now, says Seabury.

  • A Portsmouth, N.H., business has picked up and moved across the river to Kittery. Blue Mermaid, which opened in Portsmouth in 1994, has moved to 10 Shapleigh Road, opening Jan. 16. The owners are Scott and Karen Logan. The company still provides catering in both states and has a food truck available for events. “It has been great to make new relationships with our Maine community. We have lots of new regular customers as well as our regular clientele from Portsmouth,” Logan says. “The move has been great and the town of Kittery our new community and state of Maine have been very supportive and nice to work with.”

  • Construction of a Hampton Inn & Suites in Kittery should wind up in time for the spring travel season. The 83-room hotel, at 275 U.S. Route 1, is taking reservations for March 31 and beyond.

  • Kennebunk Savings remodeled its Kittery location, at 4A Shapleigh Road, and is rebuilding a branch office in Kennebunkport. Benchmark Construction is handling the rebuild.

  • Moving north to Portland, on the site of the former city of Portland maintenance garage, several buildings are quickly progressing. The Public Works, built out by Barrett Made, is open and has office space available. At Parris Terrace, a residential building, Hebert Construction has the sheathing on; condos there start at $215,000 and sales are being handled by Portside Realty.

  • Wright-Ryan Construction is building 4,000 square feet of commercial space at 60 Cove St. in the East Bayside neighborhood. The space can be divided. Re/MAX Shoreline is handling leasing.