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Updated: April 3, 2024

New manager of a downtown Freeport shopping center looks to increase visibility

aerial view of buildings and streets Courtesy / Tranzon Auction Properties The buildings surrounding a plaza comprise the 122,121-square-foot Freeport Village Station. It also has a 520-space parking garage beneath the main retail area. The main campus of L.L.Bean is seen in the background.

The new firm managing Freeport Village Station has high ambitions for the pedestrian shopping center, which sold March 6 at a foreclosure auction for $20 million.

“Our goal is to unlock the full potential of this center by creating a lively shopping experience that appeals to the local community, visitors and tourists alike,” said Tom Wilder, a principal at the Boston-based real estate development, management and leasing firm, which is called the Wilder Cos.

“Embracing Maine culture while complementing the current amenities in Freeport will lead the charge in creating an immersive shopping experience that encourages people to stay longer and enjoy their time at the center.”

Wilder assumed management and leasing responsibilities at Freeport Village Station shortly after the property was sold to the lender for the property, Freeport Village Station Capital LLC.

After foreclosing, the lender became the seller in the auction — but then bought the property with a credit bid. Credit bidding allows a foreclosing lender to bid the debt that the borrower owes at the foreclosure sale.

Tranzon Auction Properties in Portland conducted the auction.

Freeport Village Station dates to 2008, when Boston developer Berenson Associates broke ground on the retail center.

Prime location

The 122,121-square-foot Freeport Village Station is on 3.6 acres surrounding a plaza, in Freeport's downtown district across from L.L.Bean's flagship retail campus. 

plaza surround by buildings with people walking
Courtesy / The Wilder Companies
The plaza setting at Freeport Village Station has potential for experiential offerings and social interaction to attract more customers, according to a consultant.

The site was marketed as an award-winning shopping center with a prime location, strong tenant mix and an attractive investment opportunity, with existing cash flow and immediate leasing upside. The center also has a continued commitment from the anchor tenant, L.L.Bean, which has an outlet store there.

However, said Wilder, the location is challenged by other buildings that impede the view of the shopping center, which is set back from Main Street although it has a large arch entrance on the Main Street sidewalk.

“Right now, you don’t exactly know what’s there,” he said.

The center is 73% leased, with national retailers accounting for nearly 63% of the leasable area and accounting for 87% of rental revenue. In addition to L.L.Bean (which has an outlet store there), the retailers include Old Navy, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Skechers, Lindt, Oakley, Talbots, Carter’s and Famous Footwear.

There’s 33,000 square feet of available space, including a vacant movie theater. The property has a 520-space parking garage beneath the main retail area.

Maine presence

With the addition of Freeport Village Station, Wilder now manages over 7 million square feet in close to 60 retail and mixed-use properties along the East Coast. 

Since its inception, Wilder has developed, managed, and leased over 20 million square feet of retail properties throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The company entered the Maine market in 2020 to provide office and retail leasing and property management at two sites owned by Waterstone Properties —the Rock Row development in Westbrook and the Kittery Outlet Center.

The Rock Row engagement finished up at the end of 2023, Wilder told Mainebiz.

Wilder has a relationship dating back 10 years or so with the new ownership group at Freeport Village Station. The identity of the ownership was not disclosed.

“We lease and manage six properties for them from Maine to Maryland” and have two joint ventures with them, one in Connecticut and one in Pennsylvania, Wilder said. 

“The owners are also investors with us,” he said. “They look at Freeport Village Station as an opportunity to bring about a revitalization to the next generation.”

However, the property needs improvements. 

“There’s some deferred maintenance that we’ll address right away,” Wilder said.

Community engagement

The company has reached out to community leaders to discuss the local vision for the property and how it might work with Freeport’s downtown vision plan.

Long a retail destination thanks to L.L.Bean and a mix of outlets, Freeport’s retail sector has faced challenges with the growth of online shopping and shifts in consumer behavior. That's a familiar trend for brick-and-mortar retail centers, and it was worsened by the pandemic.

Freeport’s "Downtown Vision" plan, published in 2022, is a blueprint for new investment "to support a vibrant downtown district with gathering spaces, public art, new housing and business development, and enhanced bicycle and pedestrian connectivity to enhance the experience of residents and visitors," according to the town.

“I think a lot of what they identified reflects what we want to do at Freeport Village Station,” Wilder said. 

Wilder said he’s looking for local input.

“Our background is in elevating properties in a manner that addresses consumer needs and desires today,” he said. 

Experiential retail

What consumers want, Wilder said, is partly informed by the pandemic's fallout.

“It’s far more obvious that people want to have social interaction. They want to have places to gather. They want to have food and beverage. They want relevant retail and personal service,” he said. 

He continued, “And they want experiences. We call it our ‘surprise and delight’ approach. That can happen through the retail experience, the dining experience, the architectural experience, the historical experience.”

L.L.Bean’s recent revamp of its flagship store has a similar idea to provide a more accessible and “immersive” experience.

“We’re not starting from ground zero,” said Wilder. “What’s there is terrific. And I think Freeport’s vision will be doing more. We want to be part of that.”

Goals include increasing visibility and increasing the reasons why people would want to take that step down from Main Street. Ideas include bringing in a gathering space.

“It has great bones. It’s just time for a refreshed vision,” he said.

Wilder and has team have begun discussions with the town, plan to meet with the general community and businesses, and are looking at steps such as creating more green space at the shopping center, exploring other retail operators that aren’t representing in Freeport, and converting some space to food, beverage and perhaps events such as music and poetry slams. 

“The best retailers and operators are figuring out how to bring some of that local talent into their spaces,” said Wilder.” We want to encourage that as much as possible.”

There’s also an eye toward repurposing the former Nordica Theatre that’s part of the complex, perhaps for multipurpose use such as community and corporate events.

Immediate improvements to the physical structure, now underway, include painting, clapboard repairs, new signage and better lighting.

The company’s general approach centers on enhancing experience. At other properties, that’s included things like installing public art and revealing historic architectural features.

“Little things like that enrich the experience,” he said. “It’s no longer just about the transaction. It’s about engaging people — improving their experience and getting people to come back and visit.”

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