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May 13, 2020

Saco Island's new Forge apartments leasing at pre-pandemic pace

A long brick mill on a river with a green awning above the first floor Courtesy / The Forge Collection The Forge Collection apartments in Saco are on the first floor of 110 Main St., with a new green awning. The footbridge crosses the Saco River to Biddeford.

The 31 apartments in the mill at 110 Main St. in Saco went on the market March 11, the day before Maine announced its first COVID-19 case.

While business has slowed down in many ways across the state, the Forge Collection market-rate apartments on Saco Island are getting snatched up faster than they become available. As of Wednesday, 25 of the 31 one and two-bedroom apartments had been leased.

Even in the COVID-19 era, it's no secret to developer Ted Moore, of Glover Properties in Massachusetts, why the apartments are going so fast. "They're beautiful and they're priced right," he said.

Moore said potential tenants are taking virtual tours on the Forge Collection website or Facebook page, and then booking in-person viewings, conducted with social distancing and health and safety precautions.

The apartments are in a great location — on Saco Island, which has three eateries and another opening soon, a quick walk to both downtown Saco and Biddeford and an Amtrak Downeaster station.

Tenants are "a little bit of everything," Moore said. About two-thirds are millennials, some of whom have been priced out of the Portland market, others moving to the area to work. There are also University of New England graduate students, and boomers who have sold a house and are looking to downsize.

Moore also owns the short part of the L-shaped mill, which faces Main Street. That building houses the Social Security Administration, Saco Island Deli, and several other businesses and offices.

A mill complex with a river running through it
Courtesy / The Forge Collection
The Forge Collection apartments in Saco, right, overlook the falls in the Saco River. Biddeford is on the left.

Forging ahead

The one and two-bedroom apartments, a little less than 1,000 square feet, start at $1,650 and include utilities, parking under the building, a storage area, security, new appliances and more.

The finishing touches are still being added, some items slowed down by the pandemic, including delivery of kitchen cabinets from a mill out of state that briefly closed because of an outbreak. The completion of the apartments is the end of a long haul for the Saco Island space.

The Forge apartments are in 31,000 square feet of former commercial space in what was once known as Unit 91. It was remarkable for its bright yellow awning, which was visible from Main Street and across the falls in Biddeford. Moore also owns the 66-space parking area underneath the building, in another 31,000 square feet of space.

The upper three floors house 90 condominiums owned by the Island Terrace Owners Association.

The Forge name is a nod to the island's history. Until recently, it was called Factory Island and was a vital part of the city's industrial base for more than a century, including having an iron forge.

"A brainstorming session by the marketing team noted that history, plus the fact that the entire campus still retains that industrial feel," said Mark Robinson, who handles some of the publicity for the development. "Also, the common phrase of 'forging ahead' has a really good connotation for the situation. It calls to mind an intrepid spirit of progress, and just doing the work that needs to be done.

"Given the history, and the area’s long-held hopes for the revitalization of this property in the future, it seemed like a good branding idea, one that focuses on achievement," Robinson said.

The building is part of the 38-acre mill complex in Biddeford and Saco that is on the National Register of Historic Places, so Moore is using Historic Preservation Tax Credits. The mills on the island were the York Mill complex, and parts of 110 Main St. date to 1832.

Coutesy / The Forge Collection
The Forge Collection apartments in Saco have private patios, sheilded by large planters. The top four floors are condominiums owned by the Island Terrace Owners Assocation.

No more yellow awning

The yellow awning came down last week, replaced with forest green and signalling a new era in what's been a long haul for the former mill space.

Moore said the awning seemed like a symbol of the space's rocky history. "I was happy to see that go," Moore said. "I'm sure a lot of people were."

The condo association in 2012 sued Unit 91 LLC, which owned the commercial space and underground garage with Saco Island West, citing lack of maintenance and structural deficiencies. The owners gave the property to Island Terrace Owners Association in December 2015, just before the city foreclosed on it, in January 2016.

Moore bought the space in 2018, and the city approved the redevelopment in early 2019

At the time, Saco City Administrator Kevin Sutherland said there were numerous issues with the property, including easements, that had to be resolved.

Since August 2018, Moore has put about $1 million into the building, including the solar installation.

"We've upgraded everything," he said. 

Work includes replacing all the windows, upgrading the elevator, and replacing the heating and cooling system, among other things. Solar panels were installed on the roof of the commercial 110 Main St. building last week.

A complex of mill buildings with a river running through them
Courtesy / The Forge Collection
Saco Island is in the forefront, with Biddeford to the left and behind. 110 Main St. Saco, with the yellow awing, has been redeveloped into 31 apartments.

'A great place to be'

One of the things that made it tough for commercial property to get a foothold in the space was the lack of visibility from the street — it's blocked by the commercial section, and faces the Saco River falls and Biddeford. But those drawbacks for commercial tenants are selling point for the apartments.

They're shielded from busy Main Street, but all of them have southern exposure, with 750 feet of patio space facing the falls. Planters have been added for additional privacy.

The other commercial part of the building — the 70,000-square-foot, four-story leg that faces Main Street — includes the Social Security Administration, The Deli & Company, and several other offices and businesses, has been at least 96% occupied since he's owned it. Since the pandemic, he hasn't had any losses there since the pandemic began.

"We have a 100% collection rate," he said. "Everyone's paid their rent for April and May."

The popularity of the island has been well-established over the last couple years. Run of the Mill brewery is in Mill 3, a smaller building next to Main Street. Saco Mill 4, developed by Chinburg Properties, of New Hampshire, has 150 apartments, with 30,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. Loxsmith Bagels opened in Mill 4 in December, and a restaurant is slated to open there in July.

Moore said the Chinburg development is a great neighbor and complement to the Forge apartments. 

In all, he said the nearly two years of hard work and money that has gone into the mill space is worth it, and even a pandemic isn't going to keep development on the island down.

"It's just a great place to be," Moore said.

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May 14, 2020

Welcome to the neighborhood! The apartments came out beautiful and I was so happy to see the yellow changed to green!

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