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Tom Watson & Co. LLC is planning to redevelop the upper stories of a 150,000-square-foot industrial building on the Saco River waterfront, not far from where the company redeveloped and quickly found tenants to fill its Riverdam Mill redevelopment.
Tom Watson & Co. bought 59 Elm St. and 10 Gooch St. in Biddeford from Fifty Nine Elm Street LLC for $2.3 million
The two lots are across the street from each other but are considered part of the same parcel, said Vince Ciampi of Porta & Co., who represented both buyer and seller in the transaction.
The lots comprise 3.54 acres, a 150,000-square-foot industrial building and a 2,500-square-foot shed.
The property was marketed as ideal for many uses, including research, restaurant, retail and professional or medical offices.
The seller was Portland real estate developer and philanthropist Art Girard, said Ciampi.
“I reached out and we were able to come to a deal that worked for both parties,” he said.
Tom Watson & Co. is owned by Portland-based developer Tom Watson, a 2020 Mainebiz Next list honoree.
John Laliberte, vice president at Tom Watson & Co., said the large industrial building at 59 Elm has been assigned a new address of 1 Gooch St.
The building originally housed the Saco & Lowell machine shop for the area’s textile mills.
The building is unusual, said Laliberte. Consisting of six stories, the bottom two floors have low ceilings of 7 and 8 feet.
It was decided to repurpose the first two floors as a self-storage facility and build 96 apartments on the top four floors. The residential entrance will be off Gooch Street.
“This building has been in a bad way for a long time,” he said. “I grew up in Saco. For as long as I can remember, we’d drive by this building and it was always run down.”
Large windows are a dominant feature of the building, he noted.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said. “It will have a great presence once it’s all completed.”
The building is something of a blank slate otherwise. Inside, it’s bare down to the concrete pillars, ceilings, walls and floors.
“We have a blank slate to lay out units as we like,” he said.
Development will utilize the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Voluntary Response Action Program for site remediation, he added.
The team includes Portland’s Ryan Senatore Architecture on the design, he added.
Total investment in 1 Gooch is expected to be $30 million, which includes both the purchase price and the redevelopment, he said.
It’s expected that construction will start July 1 with completion targeted for late 2022.
The purchase and renovation are being financed through the state's Historic Preservation Tax Credit program along with a conventional bank loan, private partner equity and a subordinate loan for environmental remediation through the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission.
The customer market is expected to be similar to the Riverdam apartments, where the general demographic has been young professionals, both singles and couples, he said.
Across the road, 10 Gooch St. is limited in terms of development.
“We don’t have a concept right now to do anything but maintain or repair what exists there now,” Laliberte said. “It’s a big, open lot with a 2,500-square-foot stick-frame warehouse shed. We’ll just improve that lot and make small repairs to the building for aesthetics.”
In a related deal, Watson also bought next-door 20 Gooch St. and 30 Gooch St.
Those two lots comprise 1.5 acres, a 21,708-square-foot barn building and a 22,083-square-foot industrial building. The seller was Precision Screw Machine Products Inc. The lots sold together for $1.6 million. Ciampi brokered that transaction as well.
Precision Screw Machine Products is owned by Joseph and Andrea Moreshead, said Ciampi.
The couple had been considering selling the properties for a while but hadn’t listed it on the market, he said.
20 Gooch St. is an old single-story wood-frame warehouse. The eventual plan there will be to construct housing, either reusing the existing structure or, more likely, knocking it down to build new, said Laliberte.
30 Gooch St., where Precision Screw Machine Products operates, is a brick building dating to 1941. The Moresheads have a multi-year leaseback and Watson is in no hurry to take over the building, Laliberte indicated. When it does become available, the plan is to convert the building for a mix of retail uses. The single-story building features vaulted ceilings.
“It will be a really cool space,” he said.
All told, the combined purchases give Watson control over a stretch of land sandwiched by Saco River to the north and east, the Amtrak railroad track to the south, and Elm Street, which is also Route 1, to the west.
The long-term vision for Gooch Street is to develop it in a holistic way, said Laliberte.
“We want to create a neighborhood environment and atmosphere,” he said.
The acquisition of all four lots, he noted, stems from liking the opportunity at 1 Gooch St.
“We’ve been working hard at Riverdam with our program there,” he explained. “The success we’ve had with our construction and leasing team has given us the confidence to go after 1 Gooch St. and the redevelopment there.”
The Riverdam project has involved renovations of two historic mill buildings, at nearby 24 and 28 Pearl St., into 71 townhouse apartments, along with commercial spaces. Most of the first phase of construction was pre-leased just a month after marketing began.
After getting 1 Gooch St. under contract, it made sense to pursue acquisition of the other Gooch Street properties, he continued.
“It’s kind of its own street, almost on a peninsula between the river and the railroad,” Laliberte said. “From an ownership perspective, it made a lot of sense to look at this holistically.”
Laliberte credited city officials for their efforts to promote Biddeford.
“The city has done an unbelievable job promoting really smart growth,” he said. “A lot of people embrace that. We just happen to be part of it.”
As Portland gets more crowded and expensive, Biddeford has become a new hotspot for developers attracted by its location and easy interstate access, young population and new businesses moving into renovated textile mills.