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October 15, 2018
On the record

Scarborough Downs developer lays out vision for mixed-use neighborhood to 'live, work and play'

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Rocco 'Roccy' Risbara III at Scarborough Downs, where he and his partners envision a mix of residential, commercial and light industrial uses.

Rocco "Roccy" Risbara III of Risbara Bros. Construction in Scarborough is one of the developers behind a plan to transform the 500-acre Scarborough Downs site into a walkable community with land for residential, commercial and light industrial use.

The Crossroads Holding LLC principal commented to Mainebiz on the inspiration for the new neighborhood and whether there's a future for harness racing.

Mainebiz: What inspired your vision of 'the new Scarborough'?

Roccy Risbara: This is an important project and we want to get it right, so we envision blending Scarborough's rich history at this property with a new modern-day town center. Our plan includes the restoration of the iconic grandstand building to honor its 70-plus-year history, and it would serve as a landmark in the new heart of town. Given Scarborough's large geographic layout, residents desire a central common that draws people together to deepen the pride that lives within this community. We will create a green space between the grandstand and a modern-day main street that passes by. We envision the Downs to be an ideal space to live, work and play.

Mainebiz: What's the appeal of taking on a project of this magnitude?

RR: We see this as a unique opportunity to do a project that can have a positive impact on this community for generations. Frankly, my brothers and my partners have our children and grandchildren in mind, so we really want to do something special for them and generations to come. We all still live in Scarborough and have been in business here for 50 years. Our partners have lived in Scarborough for almost as long. We are truly locals and deeply love this community. Our team wants to create a great project that serves as an economic driver for the town for generations to come.

MB: You have a preliminary agreement with the town on possible Tax Increment Financing, a TIF. Would you be open to putting this to a public referendum?

RR: Timing is our priority right now, and that does not support a public referendum vote. We need to make commitments to interested users within the next month in order to move the light industrial phase of the project forward. The industrial phase of development is critical, and it's this piece of development that's at the heart of the TIF discussion. Industrial space is in the highest demand in Greater Portland — we have commitments from seven end-users. The industrial pod is at the northern-most section of this acreage and in order to run needed infrastructure to this portion — water, sewer, electricity, broadband — that carries a $265 million price tag. We will invest that money if we know we have a partnership with the town, knowing that we will hit the needed benchmarks and follow the master plan the town desires. We are not asking the town to assume any debt with this Credit Enhancement Agreement [CEA]. We fully trust the town council to engage the public as necessary before it makes a decision. While TIF districts are created frequently across municipalities, we've never heard of one going to a referendum.

MB: If you don't strike a final agreement with the town, would there be other options?

RR: There are many options for the development of the Downs, and we will develop it regardless of whether a partnership is reached. Our desire is to create a responsible mix of development that helps the town's return on investment model. We believe the only way to achieve that is with a CEA. If that doesn't happen, the Downs will be developed in a manner consistent with the zoning requirements, but likely will not bring optimal return on investment results to the town. Without a partnership, we will develop the property to follow demand, and we think that will double the amount of residential units, and reduce the amount of conservation, industrial and commercial usage.

MB: Does harness racing have a place in your plan?

RR: Our desired plan does not include harness racing in the final buildout. From what we know, harness racing as a business model doesn't work unless there are other forms of entertainment that go with it. Had the voters approved a casino at the Downs in past referendums, harness racing could certainly continue. Harness racing and casinos are allowed uses within the zoning, so if the voters approve that in the future, harness racing could continue.

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