Brice O’Connor / January 27, 2022
These days, when people think of Maine, they often think of Portland. As Maine’s largest city and business hub, Portland is celebrated for its award-winning restaurants and brewery scene, historic Old Port, and working waterfront. So much so, that robust real estate demand over the past decade has left limited development sites on the Portland peninsula. With record-high price points and recent legislative challenges, many investors and developers are finding and creating success with projects outside the city. Developments such as Rock Row, The Downs, Biddeford’s Mill District, and the Falmouth Shopping Center are proving that the Maine Market and its potential for development are deeper than just Portland.
Located at the former Pike Industries quarry, Rock Row is a 110-acre, mixed-use development on the Westbrook-Portland line, abutting Interstate I-95. With the opening of retailers such as Market Basket, Chick-fil-A, and REI, Phase One of the project is nearly complete and the developers are wasting no time breaking ground on subsequent phases. Anchored by New England Cancer Specialists and Dana Farber, the 200,000± SF medical campus is under construction, with a target completion date of 2023, and the developers recently unveiled plans for a $75 million, 8,200-person convention center, set to break ground in 2023. Rock Row will also feature Maine’s first cross-laminated timber (CLT) office tower, offering 200,000± SF of unmatched Class A office space. Topped with residential units, hotels, a food hall, as well as other retailers and amenities, Rock Row is the center of a new urban community and economic hub, transforming Westbrook and Greater Portland.
Formerly the home of the historic Scarborough Downs harness racing track, this 524-acre, mixed-use redevelopment, rebranded as The Downs, has come out of the gate strong. The Innovation District, the project’s 154-acre, 54-lot commercial subdivision completely sold out within two years of its launch—way ahead of its projected 10-year timeline. The subdivision’s early success was capped by IDEXX Laboratories purchasing the last available 25 acres of commercial lots to expand their Maine operations. Additionally, The Downs has seen early traction with its residential units, completing and selling out or leasing all 126 units in Phase One, and construction and marketing of Phase Two are well underway. The developers are currently working through master plans for the town center, which will tie the development together and create an epicenter for the Town of Scarborough with a mix of commercial, residential, and entertainment-based facilities.
Located on the Saco River just 20 minutes south of Portland, the once bustling mill town of Biddeford is seeing a revitalization, spearheaded by the redevelopment of textile mills that have sat vacant for years. The Mill District redevelopment began several years ago and has recently picked up steam, receiving interest from a range of developers. According to the City of Biddeford’s website, the Mill District has seen a 59% increase in the redevelopment of formerly vacant space over the past five years. Notable projects include:
On a slightly smaller scale, the owners of the Falmouth Shopping Center are seeing success with the construction of two new mixed-use buildings. Anchored by Shaw’s and Planet Fitness, the predominantly-retail center is located on US Route One in Falmouth’s commercial center. On out-parcels of the shopping center, the owners are developing two 25,000± SF mixed-use buildings that will feature retail on the first floor and office space on the top three floors. Being built on spec, it is noteworthy that in a time of limited leasing demand in the office market, over half of the office space and nearly all of the retail space is already leased or under contract.
Many of these projects have been in planning for several years, and we are beginning to see the creation and evolution of vibrant communities through the transformation of underutilized properties. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the appeal of Maine’s work-life balance is helping to lift all Maine communities. The strong market reaction to the early phases highlights the fact that for developers, investors, business owners, and residents, there is more to Maine than just Portland. With a creative vision, a strategic approach, and looking outside the box (or city limits), there are opportunities in Maine – whatever your personal, business, or investment goals may be.
Brice O’Connor, Associate Broker