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In a sequel to last year’s “Word on the street” real estate feature, this year’s edition highlights commercial development trends from downtown retail to office market outlooks from city officials, those working in real estate and others in the know.
“The city of Westbrook has a lot of exciting commercial and residential development activity with projects such as Vertical Harvest and Rock Row along with a number of affordable and market-rate housing projects well underway. In our downtown, the Vertical Harvest project and parking garage is nearly complete [after being] delayed a few months due to continued supply chain issues everyone seems to be experiencing. We hope to see our new parking garage open in the spring and Vertical Harvest this summer.
"These projects have generated a lot of interest in future development of both commercial and residential opportunities for our downtown and we are currently working with developers on planning for future projects which will include affordable and market rate housing, along with a possible relocation of City Hall downtown.
“At Rock Row, construction is resuming after a brief financing delay for the world-class medical facility and parking garage featuring New England Cancer Center, Rayus Imaging, the Dempsey Center, with more to be announced soon. We anticipate construction of residential units and more commercial projects at Rock Row to begin in 2024. We continue to celebrate many new small businesses in the city and looking forward to welcoming many more in the works for 2024.”
“Downtown retail continues to be stable. We have had a couple of new stores added that have done well during the holidays. Celebrating our downtown spaces like the umbrellas sponsored by Northern Light Health and bistro lighting along public park walkways pulls people into those areas. We also saw an increase in new places for nightlife. A new bar next to and connected to the Penobscot Theater opened and Chimera Coffee stayed open later.
"The mocktail scene is fun and is here to stay. People in Bangor, as part of a national trend, are looking for those ‘third places’ — places to meet friends to hang out, but as part of a public space. Even though drive-throughs are here to stay, it is notable that our two Starbucks under construction have relaxing seating areas planned. Last year, I said people want to be out shopping and this year, it’s shopping and finding their ‘third place,’ where everyone knows your name.”
“Maine’s historic downtowns are making a comeback. As our rural communities continue revitalization efforts — starting with local leaders and strategic vision — we expect to see more buy-in from developers and businesses who want to invest and support these.”
Office market outlook: “The office market is still trying to find solid footing as companies determine how much space they need post-pandemic. We’ll continue to see creative office conversions which have taken the form of industrial, residential and even storage space.”
Retail: “The retail market is hot for small suites, but larger footprints will continue to linger and dark box stores will be difficult to fill without creative reuses.”
Housing: There are several proposed housing developments for various types of products — apartments, condos and single-family homes throughout Cumberland and York counties and serving various income levels. Will the NIMBY reaction continue to prevent these communities from being built, or will there be additional state legislation similar to LD 2003 that enforces towns to allow more construction?
“We are facing a historically low inventory of light and heavy industrial space in Greater Portland … The bright side is that demand remains steady and industrial businesses continue to thrive and grow in Southern Maine. Most of my clients say that if they could grow, they would. That’s a positive. The barrier to that growth, unfortunately, is simply this seemingly never-ending space crunch.”
“Maine employers will embrace liberated work, giving employees flexibility and choice regarding how they get their work done — focusing on work outcomes instead of physical presence. This liberated approach to working will also help organizations meet their environmental, social and governance and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging goals because they will be using their physical resources more efficiently while recognizing that liberated work increases employment for disabled people and minorities, ultimately positively impacting productivity and profitability.”
“I am bullish on the Maine economy as we go into the second half of 2024. The COVID pandemic seems largely behind us. The office market, which has been the slowest of the commercial sectors, is enjoying renewed growth as office workers are returning to buildings, particularly smaller and midsize companies. We expect that interest rates to come down a bit which will spur continued investment and development in Maine.
"Investment properties in all sectors will continue to be in strong demand. As long as population growth in Maine remain stable or growing, the apartment market will continue to grow with new developments in Portland and throughout the state. We should also begin to see federal investment in Maine from the $2.5 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that was passed last year. All in all, I am bullish on Maine and believe Maine is well-positioned for continued growth.”
“In 2024 I expect to see the hospitality industry continue to take a leading role in economic development, with new investments in restaurants, hotels and related amenities, and not just in Portland. Don’t be surprised to see more award-winning restaurants in far-flung places across the state, and additional growth in markets like Rangeley with Saddleback Mountain. Augusta is well-positioned as a jumping-off point to these destinations in every direction, whether it’s Freedom, Monson, Rangeley, Carrabasset Valley or points Downeast.”
“Within the context of Maine’s commercial development landscape, I anticipate a notable strength in mixed-use developments, integrating diverse spaces within walkable areas. This trend is also poised to be propelled by meticulously planned projects that may have been on the sidelines for the past two to four years. A salient challenge will lie in the continued decrease in demand for mid- to large-square footage commercial office spaces.
"Businesses are adapting to ongoing trends in the shifting dynamics of workspace requirements, placing emphasis on the imperative for innovative solutions to align with evolving labor economics and talent pools.”