Kendra Hardesty / June 29, 2023
Maine’s midcoast region, running between Brunswick and Belfast, is one of the older parts of the state, both demographically and structurally. Unlike southern Maine and Lewiston/Auburn through Augusta/Waterville, the midcoast relies on two-lane roads as the main arteries of commerce. Without the proximity of the interstate for easy transport, the economy in this part of the state has less industrial and warehousing activity, relying instead on its relative proximity to the ocean to drive retail, hospitality, and residential housing.
Brunswick and Topsham
Brunswick and Topsham have seen impressive changes in the past three years, led by the development of the retail and commercial corridors of Cooks Corner, Brunswick Landing, and the Topsham Fair Mall Rd area.
Brunswick’s recent activity includes Barnes & Noble’s commitment to Merrymeeting Plaza and an 11,120± SF office lease to a non-profit in Brunswick Landing. Additionally, there has been retail and restaurant activity including Brickyard Hollow’s move to 5,091± SF of space at 149 Maine Street.
Topsham is currently experiencing significant development and commercial growth. Notably, the forthcoming inclusion of a new Market Basket on Topsham Fair Mall Road serves as a prominent highlight. Additionally, 8,047± SF of space was leased to Smitty’s Cinema and 10,768± SF to Five Below. These developments contribute to the thriving activity and expansion of Topsham.
In addition, housing-related sales and development in Brunswick and Topsham remain strong despite interest rate and labor headwinds. Early last year, a Boston-based private equity firm closed on the 190-unit Pegasus Landing complex. This year, an additional 63-unit complex has broken ground in Brunswick Landing, and various national housing developers continue to seek and identify further sites.
Bath and Wiscasset
There has been a noticeable increase in commercial demand in Bath, with retailers and renters expanding their search for housing beyond Portland. In late 2022 and early 2023, several office and commercial spaces were quickly rented out, including 2,551± SF of office/flex space on Front Street, as well as smaller spaces on Commercial Street and State Road. Additionally, there has been a rise in sales transactions of retail and restaurant establishments in Bath’s Centre Street and Washington Street areas, indicating a growing interest in the town.
In residential activity, 2 Davenport Circle, a newly remodeled twelve-unit apartment complex, sold in spring 2022 for $2.35 million, almost $200,000 per unit. This is a high number for the midcoast, but indicative of the pricing pressure and attractiveness of proximity to waterfront retail.
In Wiscasset, Sweetz & More moved into 14,000± SF of retail space along Route 1 in the former Big Al’s Discount building, and the Wiscasset Marketplace opposite Shaw’s added an aesthetician to a plaza anchored by Dollar Tree and Bath Ale Works.
The continued development of the Maine Tasting Center opened in 2021, where local food and beverage businesses can teach cooking classes and host tastings, shows the importance of Route 1 exposure to attract tourists. Relative to Brunswick and Topsham’s position along I-295, commercial space in Wiscasset and towns further up the midcoast are more reliant on Route 1 frontage where traffic counts are higher, and where tourists are more likely to stop.
Camden, Rockland, and Belfast
Camden and Rockland are the economic and service hubs of Knox County. Camden is a more traditional tourist attraction with high residential property values, as well as strong retail and professional office leasing, while Rockland and neighboring Thomaston hold more of the area’s industrial activity including Fisher, Dupont, and Dragon Cement, along with big-box retailers including Home Depot, Walmart, and TJ Maxx.
In Camden, recent leasing activity includes retailer Wooden Alchemy’s lease at 21 Elm Street, a building with 95% occupancy in its upper-floor professional office suites, and Midcoast Sports Exchanges’ lease of 2,438± SF of high-traffic retail space in the Hannaford Plaza. Recent waterfront transactions include the High Tide Inn, a 33-room property that sold for $2.15 million, and 37 Bay View Street, a retail property most recently home to two art galleries, which sold for $215/SF. In the fall of 2022, 30 Mechanic Street, a 1.3-acre parcel of two parking lots in downtown Camden opposite Knox Mill condominiums sold for $6.5 million.
In Rockland, Dupont’s lease of 88,000± SF at 341 and 345 Park Street will be used for seaweed storage to support Dupont’s carrageenan production facility in Rockland harbor. In the industrial park, 12 Moran Drive, a partially leased investment property, was sold to an owner-user for $38/SF. In the summer of 2022, the Shaw’s and Staples-anchored Harbor Plaza sold for $86/SF. More recently, downtown mixed-use buildings have sold in the $200-$250/SF range, and a renovated 16-unit downtown apartment building closed at $1.8M, a high-water mark for multifamily properties of that size in the area.
Belfast, located at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 3 and along the northern part of Penobscot Bay, is among the oldest cities in the state, with a diverse population. In its downtown region, mixed-use buildings have recently traded between $175-$200/SF, a discount over Rockland and other nearby markets. Nearer the intersection of Route 1 and 3, recent developments in progress include Maine State Credit Union and ConvenientMD. Penobscot Community Health Care’s late 2021 purchase of the former MBNA campus remains an anchor employment center in the area, with Athenahealth’s operations center as a top fifty employer in the state.
The midcoast sees the same challenges as other areas of the state, attracting and retaining large employers, providing affordable housing, and managing an aging workforce. However, the region’s oceanside geography provides a consistent undertow of activity from tourists, retirees, and professionals looking to relocate. In addition, its composition as a set of distinct cities and towns allows for a greater diversity of industry and opportunity for investors and developers. As greater Portland continues to expand, the midcoast’s desirable geography will become an outsized benefactor in the state’s economic future.
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