TIF approval helps develop Westbrook gateway

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WESTBROOK – Waterstone Property Group has a vision of turning the old Pike quarry property it owns at 58 Main Street into a new gateway to the community. In order for that vision to materialize, it needs financial development assistance from the city.

Waterstone Principal Anton Melchionda said in order to redevelop the nearly 66-acre property into a mixed-use development with commercial, residential and hospitality uses, developers need a tax increment financing agreement, something the city council granted Monday, March 5.

The purpose of the tax increment financing (TIF) agreement, according to a March 2 memo from City Administrator Jerre Bryant to councilors, is to help fund the $9 million to $10 million in public infrastructure costs the property needs before construction can begin. Through the TIF agreement, 50 percent of the tax generated on the property over a 25-year period will go to the city. The other half will be retained by the developer to offset development costs.

“This is a critical commercial property at the entrance to the City of Westbrook, and its redevelopment will have significant ripple effects throughout the Gateway Commercial District and beyond,” Bryant wrote. “The site’s past extractive industrial use of this property, which includes a massive quarry on (site), makes this redevelopment project challenging and costly. To facilitate the reuse of this site and help fund the public infrastructure improvements, the Administration supports the establishment of this proposed Tax Increment Financing District.”

While his fellow councilors voted to support the TIF Monday, Council President Brendan Rielly voted against it. While he supports the project and Waterstone’s concept, he wants to see more specific language in the agreement as to what residents may be able to expect once the property is fully redeveloped. The TIF agreement states, Waterstone has “proposed a forward-thinking mixed-use development plan that is envisioned to include the following types of development: grocery, traditional and lifestyle retail, restaurants, a movie theater, indoor entertainment, an outdoor concert venue, medical offices, a hotel, a pet park, an outdoor wellness area as well as some residential development.”

“I need to be able to tell the Westbrook taxpayers, at least in general terms, what will be there and I can’t tell them that yet,” Rielly said.

Melchiondra told Rielly he couldn’t be more specific, at least at this point. Bryant said adding more specificity to the TIF arrangement would make it more difficult for Waterstone to market the property.

“If we are going to be more specific, they should walk away because we are not the developers. They need the flexibility to do what they do well and we need an assurance, in general terms, that what we are being told, they are going to deliver,” Bryant said.

Councilors Vincent Chau and Lynda Adams said they support the TIF and how it is structured.

“We’ve had many meeting with the developer. I am very comfortable with the TIF. I have a lot of trust in him,” Chau said of Melchionda. “I have a lot of trust in him and he has not done anything to ruin that trust.”

Chau said he knows Melchionda “is going to do the right thing, whatever thing it will be, and I am positive he is going to work with us and we will get this to the best thing it can be. I am excited.”

Waterstone’s vision for the property, Melchionda said, includes a mixture of residential uses (possibly rentals or condominiums), hospitality (possibly an extended stay or boutique hotel), medical use (primary care/emergency care), restaurants, retail and recreation. 

“The end product will be a combination, in some proportion, of all those things,” Melchionda said. “Do we know the percentages? We don’t.”

The property was once eyed by a previous developer to be the site of a large retail development anchored by Wal-Mart, Chick-Fil-A and the 99 Restaurant. That vision was not shared by Waterstone when it purchased the property and the company rethought the plans. Last fall, Waterstone entered into an agreement with Market Basket to place the grocery chain’s second Maine location on the site. Melchionda said Waterstone has reached out to regional restaurants and discount retailers like TJ Maxx/ Marshalls as potential commercial tenants.

Melchionda said Market Basket, which could open by spring 2019, “will be an amazing ignitor for the site.” The Westbrook project would be the fourth site Waterstone has developed that has a Market basket location. Two other sites in Maine: Bob’s Discount Furniture, HomeGoods/Marshall’s, and PetSmart shopping mall at Gallery Place in Scarborough and the Kittery Outlet Center have been developed by Waterstone.

Melchionda said the existing 400-foot deep quarry hole on site will be fully embraced as part of the project. He said the company had originally looked into filling in the quarry or fencing it in, but instead will use it as a water feature for outdoor dining and recreational trails.

“For us, that was a huge a-ha moment,” he said.

If feasible, the water may be stocked for a fishing pond. Adams applauded making the quarry pit a feature of the property.

“I would be nice to have something that is unique and that will draw people to that center,” she said.

The proposal Waterstone has laid out thus far has generated excitement from board members of Discover Downtown Westbrook.

“As a constituent as president of Discover Downtown Westbrook, I am very comfortable and excited about this,” Deb Shangraw said.

Phil Spiller, Discover Downtown Westbrook, appreciates the working relationship between his group and Waterstone.

“They are going to be an incredible partner in the community,” he said.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@theforecaster.net.