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Scarce industrial space and short development timelines are among the factors driving interest in the Innovation District at The Downs in Scarborough.
The sales of the first two lots at 90 Payne Road in the 80-acre business park were finalized in December.
Oyster Development bought the 1.43-acre Lot 28 from Crossroad Holdings LLC for $450,000. Drew Sigfridson, Jon Rizzo and Jessica Estes of The Boulos Co. brokered the deal, which closed Dec. 17.
ZBC Blackwood LLC bought the 0.89-acre Lot 32 from Crossroad Holdings LLC for $267,000. Sigfridson and Rizzo, along with Craig Church of Magnusson Balfour brokered the deal, which closed Dec. 5.
“These lots are being delivered ready to build,” said Rizzo. “The lots are cleared and utilities are coming to the site. That speeds up the development process.”
The park is a section of Crossroad Holdings LLC’s 510-acre mixed-use development featuring residential, retail and commercial neighborhoods at the former Scarborough Downs. Crossroad Holdings LLC is owned by two sets of brothers: William, Marc and Rocco (Roccy) Risbara III of Risbara Bros., and Peter and Richard Michaud, formerly of Michaud Distributors. They bought Scarborough Downs in a deal announced in December 2017.
Zoning for the district accommodates numerous uses. Flexible lot sizes can accommodate users from 5,000 to 100,000 square feet or more.
Queries are coming from throughout Maine and as far as New York and Canada, Rizzo said. Nine lots are under contract and seven more are being considered, he added.
The district is Maine’s first industrial/business park to be developed in over 25 years, according to Boulos’s marketing materials.
Ease of approvals is a primary sale feature, said Sigfridson. All lots will be prepared for development, including cleared, graded sites and road infrastructure. Utilities include three-phase power, municipal water and sewer, stormwater, natural gas and fiberoptics. The DEP permitting work, traffic permits and infrastructure improvements cut development time for new construction significantly, he said.
The buyer behind Oyster Development is Daniel Willis, who owns AV Technik, a full-service event production company. Construction of his new building on Lot 28 is underway.
Willis got into the business early on. Born and raised in Portland, he was a drummer in high school. In 1994, his band was asked to play for a school event. Instead of requesting payment, they asked the school to bring in a professional sound company for the gig.
“I was blown away by this part of the business: the speakers and amps and soundboard,” he recalled. “So I called the company the next morning and said, ‘I want to work for you.’ they said, ‘Sure, we need some kids to push boxes.’”
Willis started AV Technik in 2004 to handle everything from sound and lights to staging, rigging and in-house video production.
“We do anything from small meetings of 10 people up to a rock show with 10,000 people,” he said.
Among its regular clients, the company stages the L.L.Bean concert series and Portland Ovations. It handled production for Gov. Janet Mills’ inauguration, and is contracted to stage the Maine Democratic Convention in May.
The company started out in a 600-square-foot garage in Saco, then moved to a 5,000-square-foot leased building at the Scarborough Industrial Park. In 2012, Willis bought his current location, a building just under 11,000 square feet at 76 Darling Ave. in South Portland. Eventually, it outgrew that space as well.
The building at Innovation District will be 25,000 square feet.
Willis didn’t originally intend to build new.
“We were looking for a pre-existing building,” he said. “But I had a lot of criteria.”
He needed at least double the size of his current digs and wanted more than one loading dock. Convenient access to I-95 and I-295 were a must.
“We’re constantly running in and out to take care of our customers,” he said. “We also wanted it to be convenient for staff to get in and out without too much travel and traffic.”
General considerations included more office and warehouse space.
“There was just nothing on the market,” he said. “And I wasn’t going to lease.”
Willis was aware of the Downs development and scheduled a meeting about a year ago with the developers.
“Roccy Risbara and Dick Michaud have been wonderful,” he said. “This is a big project for us to jump into. There was a lot of back and forth. Their enthusiasm and their vision were infectious. They’ve got a lot of heart and soul in this.”
Heart and soul guide Willis, too.
“My business is very personal to me,” he said. “My guys work hard, so the thought was to put a building together that would provide them a really wonderful place to work.”
Willis also liked the vision behind the overall development, to create a community feel that included tree-lined streets and proximity to residential neighborhoods.
The one-story metal building will have 5,500 square feet of office space and 19,000 square feet of warehousing behind that, with a ceiling height up to 27 feet at its peak.
Amenities will feature clean, modern styling that includes granite and tile trim; individual office spaces, a large kitchen, an outdoor patio and a small fitness room.
“Another really big feature I’m really proud of is that we’re building all of our loading bays interior to the building,” he said. “We’ll be able to back full-size trucks into the building and close the outer doors, so the guys can load and unload in a heated environment. A lot of times, if they have to take off at, say, 7 in the morning, they have to get in at 5 a.m. to pack the truck because we can’t leave this stuff outside overnight. Now we’ll be able to load everything inside the building, where it’s heated, dry and secure. And the same thing at the end of the day. Let’s say they get done with an 18-hour day, which is not uncommon: they can leave everything in the building overnight and unload the next day.”
Willis has contracted Risbara Bros. for construction. Financing comes as a loan from Norway Savings Bank. Willis credits bank officer Dana Myles for her detailed attention.
“I’ve been doing business with Norway Savings Bank since I opened my doors: all the crazy-hour emails and phone calls I throw at her,” he said. “She comes to my office if need be. As a bank they’re so local and Dana is so committed.”
Willis also credits Boulos’s Jessica Estes for her representation of his interests; she’s now marketing the Darling Avenue building, listed earlier this month.
He continues to operate from Darling Avenue and expects to be at the new site by this August. There will be logistical challenges because the company will be mounting shows even while it’s moving.
On the one hand, he said, “We’re in the business of moving, so almost everything we have is meant to go on a truck. The challenge is, we’re a seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year company. We work nights, weekends, holidays, 2 in the morning. We work outside of Maine as well. So sometimes these days are 18 hours for multiple days in a row. That means we have to be strategic about the logistics of moving.”
The company handles countless items to stage events, and each event is customized. That means every item is carefully categorized in the warehouse for easy access. The company will be staging events throughout the move, so it must exactly map out its procedure for getting everything to the new warehouse.
When does he and his team sleep?
“You don’t go into this business looking for a job,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle and it's all about creating that perfect event experience.”
At Lot 32, the buyer behind ZBC Blackwood LLC is Scott Giles, founder of Scorebuilders, a Scarborough company that operates primarily online to assist physical therapists and physical therapist assistants with licensure examination preparation. The company serves over 20,000 students per year.
Giles said he decided to build a physical location to accommodate office space and warehousing for academic resources including textbooks, course manuals and flash cards.
Ground was broken in December and the framing is going up now for a 5,000-square-foot building that will accommodate an open office concept and warehousing to accommodate textbooks orders in the thousands, he said. Landscaping will feature blueberry bushes, flowers and trees. Giles expects to be operational mid-August.
Companies working on the project including Risbara Bros., Kevin Browne Architecture of Falmouth, Bowerbird Design of Saco and Aceto Landscape Architects of Portland.