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September 13, 2023

Freeport 'fit-up' grant program offers incentive to spruce up retail and commercial venues

people on street and flags File photo / William Hall Shoppers emerged in 2020 to take advantage of Freeport’s shopping opportunities.

The town of Freeport has been re-envisioning its downtown in an “experiential live-work-play model” that attracts residents, employees, retailers, restaurants and other businesses.

As a next step, the Freeport Economic Development Corp. is offering $60,000 in grants to help new businesses and property owners update commercial spaces.

The Freeport Business Fit-Up Grant Program provides matching funds for projects that redevelop, restore, renovate and reconfigure commercial properties in the downtown and along U.S. Route 1.

“We’re excited to help local makers, experiential retailers, and food and beverage entrepreneurs activate their perfect space in Freeport with the Fit-Up program,” said Freeport Economic Development Corp. President Mary Davis.

The program will distribute town funds for projects that enhance local business vitality and diversify Freeport’s commercial offerings.

Long a growing retail destination thanks to L.L.Bean and other national and local outlets, Freeport’s retail sector, like those elsewhere, has declined with market hits such as the growth of online shopping, the 2009 recession and the pandemic.

Although national retailers such as L.L.Bean and Patagonia do strong business in Freeport, others such as Nike and Calvin Klein have departed over the past decade, leaving vacancy rates as high as 75% in some commercial areas.

But there are signs that new economic life may be coming to the town, which attracts 3 million visitors annually.

In early 2022, Freeport released a new Downtown Vision Plan, a blueprint for new investment to support the downtown district with gathering spaces, public art, new housing and business development, and enhanced bicycle and pedestrian connectivity.

In January, a group of investors bought a portfolio of four buildings and a parking lot in downtown Freeport due to what they said at the time was a shifting momentum that included this year’s opening of a new $110 million L.L.Bean headquarters.

The Fit-Up program is part of that momentum, said Town Council Chair Dan Piltch.

“The Fit-Up program demonstrates Freeport’s ongoing commitment to our business community,” said Piltch. “Supporting our local business ecosystem is a central goal of our Downtown Vision Plan.”

Fit-Up grants must be matched dollar for dollar by a business or property owner for approved projects. Typical grant awards will be $10,000 per project. Funding can be used for utility connections, building updates for code compliance, accessibility upgrades, space reconfiguration, and other activities to adapt commercial spaces for innovative uses in Freeport.

Fit-Up applications are due Nov. 15. For more information, click here or contact Brett Richardson at (207) 865-4743, ext.117.

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