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For the past few years, Gorham has boasted a zero vacancy rate in its industrial parks, the tightest of the tight Portland area industrial market.
Now the town, in a push to diversify its economic base and take advantage of the hot market, is turning 141 acres of long-vacant farmland into a 17-lot industrial and business park.
"We saw this as an opportunity to be proactive," said Kevin Jensen, Gorham's economic development director.
The overarching goal is to attract commercial, manufacturing and industrial businesses of all sizes, from Maine and beyond, and provide incubator space to grow entrepreneurship and the Maine economy, town officials said in a Mainebiz Factbook profile last year.
Once the permitting is taken care of and the infrastructure is developed, the lots will be marketed by Malone Commercial Brokers. They'll be a variety of sizes, designed to support buildings ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 square feet, and will be ready to market in 2022, said Mike Anderson, of Malone.
One lot, with access to Libby Avenue, is being listed immediately, once the selling price is nailed down. Anderson said the seven-acre lot can support a building of up to 20,000 square feet, with parking.
The town bought the land, which is actually two parcels, from the M.P. Rines Trust for $5.9 million last February after the move was approved by town voters in a November 2019 referendum. Of that, $4 million was to buy the former farm and the other $1.9 million was to develop it. The two lots, separated by the former railroad line that's now the Crosstown Trail, form a fat "L," with frontage on Main Street, which is Route 25, as well as on Libby Avenue.
The town will connect the land to public utilities, including natural gas, get Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation permits, and build roads at the site. Engineering consultants Milone & MacBroom, of Portland, are working with the town on the design, permitting and road construction.
"These will be shovel-ready lots," Anderson told Mainebiz.
While the overall tone of the yet-to-be named industrial-business park is industrial, Jensen and Anderson said a wide range of users may find the space attractive.
"Industrial space is at a premium," Jensen said. "But we're also looking at what businesses in Gorham and surrounding communities are looking for." He said uses like family fitness centers, medical screening sites and craft breweries with tasting rooms — "businesses that don't necessarily need to be in a retail-space type environment."
Anderson said that industrial new-build construction is picking up in southern Maine. Flexible developments are catching on, like Mill Brook Business Park in Saco, where there's a mix of light industrial and other types of businesses, and the innovation district at the Downs, in Scarborough, which also mixes light industrial uses with a variety of other types of uses, including a warehouse where custom car owners can store their cars and have them serviced.
"We've got some really good stuff happening there, which is a big deal not only for us, but also for the state," Downs developer Roccy Risbara recently told Mainebiz.
The southern Maine industrial market has been tight for years, and the pandemic hasn't changed that, Justin Lamontagne and Sam LeGeyt said at the MEREDA 2021 Forecast Conference last week. Transactions set a record in 2020; the area vacancy rate ended the year at 2.44%.
In Gorham, the vacancy rate was 0% among the town's 41 industrial buildings — 39 of those at Gorham Industrial Park — and just more than a million square feet of industrial space, Lamontagne and LeGeyt said.
Aside from its always-full industrial park on Route 25 near the Westbrook line, other parcels in town are being snatched up. One recent development is that Harvey Performance Co., which had been in the industrial park for 15 years, moved into a new 79,000-square-foot building on 13 acres at the intersection of U.S. Route 202 and the Bernard Rines Highway last year.
"Gorham is a great town to work with," Steve Vatcher, Harvey vice president of operations, told Mainebiz at the time. "They were an extremely helpful partner in this process."
Anderson said Gorham is in a perfect position to capitalize on the local need for industrial flex space. The town is close to Portland, but also has access to the area to the west and town officials are ready and willing to make it happen. Discussion at the state level of a spur from the Maine Turnpike through South Portland, Saco, Scarborough, Westbrook and Gorham, also continues, something would further enhance the location once it's completed.
U.S. Route 202, as well as state routes 114, 4 and 25 all meet downtown, and the Gorham campus of the University of Southern Maine is just up the hill from the village.
The town has a revolving loan fund program for businesses, providing competitive rates for loans up to $150,000, that can be used for everything from boosting inventory to buying property or machinery.
Gorham is also focusing on further developing as a town that's friendly to new residents, particularly ones with families. A flurry of development in the village over the last several years, including residential, and formation of the Gorham Village Alliance in 2017, have added energy to the town center. The town also has 35 miles of recreational trails on both town and private land for public use.
"It's a very good time for this," Anderson said, of the new industrial-business park. While it's early in the process, he's already seen some interest, and expects the lots to sell out in the next two to three years.
Both he and Jensen said the new development won't just provide an opportunity for Maine-based businesses, but also for out-of-state businesses looking to locate it Maine.
Jensen said while the development is an opportunity for Gorham to further diversify its business base, as well as its tax base, it's also an opportunity for the region.
“We want to play a part in building Maine's economy," he said. "At the end of the day, this is about growing businesses and creating good jobs for Mainers.”