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Updated: December 25, 2019

Insider Notebook: Busy North River Co. named central Maine 'Developer of Year'

Anthony Gatti Photo / Fred Field Anthony Gatti, a partner in North River Co.,with the Hathaway Creative Center and Lockwood Mill complex in the background.

North River Development Co., which is undertaking major projects in both Portland and Waterville, has been named Developer of the Year by the Central Maine Growth Council.

In Portland, as North River IV LLC, the company is building a multi-use project, Portland Square, on 2.26 acres of what's now mostly parking lot bordered by Free, Center, Fore and Cross streets.

In Waterville, rather than infilling, the company is focused on redeveloping a massive century-old mill complex along the Kennebec River. North River, with affiliate Waterfront Properties, owns the Hathaway Creative Center and earlier this year bought the adjoining Lockwood Mills.

The award was accepted by North River partner Anthony Gatti.

"North River Company is a pivotal force behind downtown Waterville’s revitalization," Garvin Donegan, director of planning and economic development for CMGC said in a news release announcing the award. The Hathaway Creative Center, which the New York-based firm bought in 2017 for $20 million, "has become a major anchor of Waterville's downtown revitalization."

The redevelopment of the long-vacant 165,000-square-foot Lockwood complex "will mark a new milestone in the revitalization of downtown Waterville," Donegan said. Plans for the first phase include 9,000 square feet of commercial space, new parking and 65 residential units, 47 of them workforce housing, for which developers were recently awarded Low Income Tax Credits from MaineHousing. The second phase includes another 65 units.

Being approved for the Low Income Tax Credits "is a testament to the vibrant quality of life and strong demand for workforce housing in downtown Waterville," said Christopher Flagg, president of North River, in a news release.

He added, "We look forward to increasing and updating the inventory of high-quality residential and commercial space in the riverside downtown district and we appreciate the support of the community as we redevelop an iconic part of the city.”

Donegan said that the North River team "is exceptionally talented at identifying the needs of businesses within high-growth industries, whether established institutions or startups, and creating the site inventory to attract these businesses.”

In Portland, a site plan review for the Portland Square project was submitted Oct. 9 and is under review. Plans are for a 1,000-space parking garage, 27,731 square feet of office space, 5,565 square feet of retail and 24 residential units. Initial site work has already started.

North River also owns the Pierce Atwood building on Portland’s waterfront, as well as the Fort Andross redeveloped mill on the Androscoggin River in Brunswick. Other holdings include One and Two Portland Square, which North River acquired in 2015 for $66 million, which was, at the time, said to be the largest commercial real estate deal in Portland’s history.

MEREDA adds toolkit, local focus

The Maine Real Estate and Developers Association is adding a developer's toolkit and honing its focus on municipal development processes in order to help smooth real estate development on the local level.

Maine's communities "are where regulation starts, and it has a significant impact on development and real estate," Gary Vogel, MEREDA executive director, said at a recent Morning Menu breakfast.

The MEREDA Developer’s Toolkit will help members understand the ins and outs of municipal land use approval processes and the steps a developer can take to make the path smoother, the association says. It's designed for both developers and projects of all size. Tools include a template for use on the developer’s own project, and samples to demonstrate how the tools can be applied.

The association has also formed a Local Issues Standing Committee as part of its "mission to promote an environment for responsible development and ownership of real estate throughout the state."

The committee, which is still looking for members, will monitor and engage on local land use and development matters, and meet up to six times a year.

"Local  activism and the use of municipal ordinance referenda is on the rise, and as the state’s premiere development advocacy organization, MEREDA believes it is appropriate for a committee to monitor and address these issues," the organization says on its website.

The developers toolkit is part of the effort — one aspect of the comittee's mission is to develop and deploy a "proactive educational initiative" designed to inform developers about best practices and tools to minimize local resistance development projects.

On Jan. 8 members, will spend the day a Hall of Flags reception at the State House. The session will last from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is a chance for legislators and members to schmooze and talk about development issues.

MaineHousing family house program made permanent

MaineHousing's Building Family Futures program has gone from pilot to a full program — believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., the state's housing authority said.

To qualify for the program, families must qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher, be precariously housed, be employed, complete Rent Smart training and fill out a career plan. Preference is given to families that have an adult family member who participates in a Family Self-Sufficiency related program. The program provides the voucher and a housing navigator for the first year, and automatically enrolls the family in MaineHousing’s ReStart program.The pilot was developed based on recommendations by the Maine Affordable Housing Working Group.

Building Family Futures is provided in partnership with Aroostook Community Action Program, York County Community Action Corporation, Waldo Community Action Partners, Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, Downeast Community Partners, Community Concepts, Inc. and Penquis.

Waterville arts center to get a Hub

Back to Waterville, where a $1 million commitment from Colby College class of 1979 alum Mark W. Hubbert will help develop the two-story glass-enclosed pavilion of the planned arts center downtown. The area will be called The Hub.

The Hub will be "a dynamic new space" at the planned Paul J. Schupf Art Center at 93 Main St., which will be a place for the community to come together and connect, and a central feature of the center, Colby said in a news release.

The $20 million arts center being developed by the college and Waterville Creates! is in the design phase. Plans are to renovate part of the existing building on the edge of Castonguay Square and add new construction, including the pavilion.

"The Hub will welcome visitors from multiple generations into a unique, art-filled space," the release said. "Inside the two-story illuminated pavilion, the life of the center will be on full display through a beautifully designed exterior glass wall. The name, The Hub, is symbolic of the convergence and connection of the many groups that will use the new downtown arts center — the partner organizations of Waterville Creates!, the Colby and Waterville communities, and visitors to Waterville."

“I’ve been very excited by Colby’s and [college President] David Greene’s initiative to better connect and interact with Waterville, and in doing so bring new economic life and energy to the city,” said Hubbert, who is chief risk officer for Wells Fargo Advisors. “These efforts benefit both the college and the city, and I’m pleased to help move this important work forward. A key part of this involves expanding and connecting the arts in Waterville, and I’m confident The Hub will help achieve that.”

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