WESTBROOK — The 100 acres bordered by the Maine Turnpike, Larrabee Road and Main Street has been empty for several years, piles of rock and gravel the only sign it was once one of the state’s most active quarry operations.
But if all goes as planned, within a few years the site that spreads from Westbrook into Portland could have up to 1 million square feet of retail, office, medical and residential space.
The first piece of the Rock Row project planned by Waterstone Property Group is an 80,000-square-foot Market Basket grocery store on Main Street, at the northwest corner of the site, across from Westbrook Crossing plaza.
“We really wanted to bring in Market Basket,” said Josh Levy, a principal of Waterstone. The previous developer, J&J Gove Development, was approved for a Walmart at the site as part of a 500,000-square-foot development, but Waterstone worked with Westbrook to replace it with the supermarket.
“We wanted to meet the needs of the community,” he said.
He also expects the development to be a regional draw, as well as lure customers from the nearby Maine Turnpike and those traveling to the Sebago Lake region.
The timeline is also not nailed down, but generally the Market Basket would open sometime next year and the rest of the project would be built over the following two or three years.
The project is being designed by Georgia architectural firm Wakefield Beasley & Associates.
The store will be an anchor to a retail block of the development that flows naturally from the retail that’s already there, including Kohl’s-anchored Westbrook Crossing, across Main Street.
As the development moves into the interior of the site, it will evolve into a village with retail, restaurants, residential and office space. Farther in, there will be 100,000 square feet of medical use and residential development toward the back.
Levy said the plan is the result of a collaboration with city officials in both Westbrook and Portland, organizations that include the Westbrook Downtown Coalition, the Greater Portland Council of Governments, Portland Trails, the Environmental Finance Center at the Muskie School of Public Service, as well as area residents.
“We want to meet the needs of the community,” he said. “It’s not going to be successful if it doesn’t meet the needs of the community.”
The city of Westbrook approved subdivision of the site with the previous developer’s proposal and approved a tax increment financing agreement for the development in March that is expected to generate $12 million for investing in the city’s infrastructure. The council estimated offsite infrastructure work for the project will cost as much as $10 million, and half of the tax revenue generated by the project over 25 years will help pay for that work.
About 16 acres, in the area of the quarry, is in Portland, and the developer has been working with that city as well, Levy said.
Levy said both cities have been great to work with, but with the biggest impact in Westbrook, he has had extensive contact with city officials since last year.
City Council President Brendan Rielly said the project is a good one for the city.
“I’ve met with the developers many times and am excited about their project,” he told Mainebiz. “They have a long track record of successful destination-oriented projects. I’m looking forward to them incorporating the quarry into their design, turning it into a pond with walking trails around it.”
“There’s a lot more work to do,” Levy said, but in general, the development will have three distinct parts — the retail block anchored by Market Basket, the more interior village development and the medical and residential area across the railroad tracks that split the property.
The most solidified plans are for the Market Basket retail area and the retail village area.
“The phones are ringing off the hook” with interested business tenants, he said.
One of the features of the village area will be 25,000-square-foot beer and food hall. The hall will have 18 to 22 local and regional vendors, and a brew pub, but also a place where local breweries can showcase their beer. The second floor would be office incubator space, he said.
Other commercial amenities will be a movie theater, Class A office space and restaurants and shops.
“It’s important to have a good mix of local, regional and some national [businesses],” he said.
The medical area would include primary care, specialty care, diagnostic imaging and more, he said.
The residential would be apartments and townhouses, but the number of units hasn’t been determined, he said. There will also be some rental units in the village area.
The site is in between exits 47 and 48 on Interstate 95, which runs along its east side. Main Street, Larrabee Road and the Route 25 arterial are its other borders.
Levy said the location is ideal for the plan, providing accessibility to those who live nearby as well as those passing through.
It will have four access points, including two on Larrabee Road, but the main one would be on Main Street across from the entrance to Westbrook Crossing.
Levy said it will provide thousands of jobs, both in construction and in the businesses that will locate there.
He said it will also generate more than $1 million in taxes.
The Husky Line expansion, part of the Portland Metro Transit’s larger expansion of its bus service, will run through the development, Levy said.
“Once it’s up and running, it’s going to have a huge economic impact on the region,” he said.
The crown jewel of the development will be the 26-acre bluestone quarry, which was going to be filled in by previous developers. The plan is to fill it about two-thirds and use it for recreational purposes.
The renderings show a lighthouse shining on the quarry’s emerald-green water.
Plans also include trails and a focus on the natural plantings, walkability and embracing the natural attributes of the region.
“We value open space and recreation,” he said. “The open space is more important than any one building.”
It will be a big change for the site that began as a gravel pit a century ago. After it was bought by the Hinman family in 1920, blue rock was discovered there and the company became Blue Rock Industries.
The quarry supplied stone for the Maine Turnpike, Interstate 295, the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, and the Portland Jetport main runway, according to a 2006 Current Publishing article. The quarry was sold to Pike Industries in 2006.
The previously planned 500,000-square-foot retail development on the site that included the Walmart had been in the works since 2015. Waterstone bought the property last year.
Levy said the aim is to be unique, to look outward at the community, but also find the best use for a site that was industrial, then barren, for so long as the cities grew around it.
“It’s a good challenge to redevelop an old industrial site,” he said. “It was mined for 100 years, taking from the earth. We want to do something sustainable, to develop this in a sustainable way that contributes to the community.”
He said while it will draw regionally, developers are also aware that the they are at “the front door of Westbrook,” and have worked closely with the city to make the development something residents want.
“We don’t want to be the Old Port, or Thompson’s Point, or the Maine Mall,” he said. But the development will be part of that whole.
Needham, Mass.-based Waterstone owns more than 9 million square feet of retail space at more than 65 properties.
While the company has done developments of the same magnitude, Levy said Rock Row is different.
“This is a great blank canvas,” he said.