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10-04-2006, 11:20 AM
Hotel proposal for OOB given mixed reception
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By SETH HARKNESS, Staff Writer Portland Press Herald Wednesday, October 4, 2006

OLD ORCHARD BEACH - A small strip of land beside a public restroom became the focal point of a discussion on the future of the town Tuesday.
Tim Swenson says he needs the 150-foot-by-30-foot town-owned plot between the railroad tracks and West Grand Avenue to move forward with his plan to build a $50 million hotel.
Voters will decide whether to sell or lease the land -- and the air rights above it -- in a referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot.
A public hearing on the ballot question Tuesday night attracted about 50 residents, and the comments suggested that the outcome is far from certain.
Some people applauded Swenson for the change he is proposing for downtown Old Orchard Beach and said they supported at least giving his latest project a chance to enter the planning process.
But others cited the same faults with the hotel project that they see in the Grand Victorian, Swenson's nearlycomplete $20 million condominium and retail complex at the foot of Old Orchard Street.
They criticized the project as too large, misplaced and out of character with the rest of downtown.
"Another massive project before we've lived with the first one for any length of time, I think is just premature," said Ricki Letowt.
The hearing was the first chance for Old Orchard Beach residents to publicly discuss a project that has been the talk of the town since Swenson proposed it this summer.
The eight-story Old Orchard Beach House Hotel, at the corner of West Grand Avenue and Old Orchard Street, would include a 450-car parking garage built over the rail line and a tunnel for trains to pass through.
Speaking in favor of putting the land up for sale, Town Manager Jim Thomas pointed out that the November vote is not equivalent to a referendum on the project itself. Because of its height, the proposed hotel needs a contract zone and the approval of both the Town Council and the town Planning Board.
Thomas said there will be numerous opportunities for public input throughout the permitting process, which he said could take as long as two years.
"This is a very long and arduous process," he said.
But several residents said they do see the vote as a test of public opinion on Swenson's latest project -- and they disapproved. Many said the hotel wouldn't fit with the inexpensive fun and carnival-like atmosphere that many people expect to enjoy in Old Orchard Beach.
Joe Mokarzel, owner of the Atlantis and Sea Drift motels, said he had listened all summer to guests bemoan the size of the Grand Victorian and the loss of the amusement games and bars it displaced. Mokarzel said he didn't want to see an even bigger project rise up across the street.
"This is not the place," he said. "We are losing the character We are losing why people come here."
Alice Langdon of Seaview Avenue said she supports Swenson's attempt to bring economic development to Old Orchard Beach, but wishes it could be less ambitious.
"This building is going to block out the sun except for at 12 noon," she said. "The whole square will be in the shade in the morning and afternoon."
They were fewer in number, but others said Old Orchard Beach is ready for the buildings and tax revenue that Swenson's development would bring
William Danton said those who defended the status quo in downtown Old Orchard were arguing for the preservation of blight.
"These old buildings, they're dilapidated," he said. "When are they going to be changed if projects like this aren't given a chance to go forward?"
Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:

Reader comments

e of Cape, me
Oct 4, 2006 10:53 AM
To all-- I agree OOB needs some renovations--I for a long time thought that it should be "flattened and rebuilt with a casino, nicer built hotels/condo and some retail shops on the "strip" while still having the pier (rebuilt) at the end. However, how realistic is it? I worked in an OOB hotel and 98% of the clientele were canadians? And I know I know, they don't tip at restaurants and "they can't drive" comes out of everyones mouth, however, they are spending their money. Will they still come if OOB gets too "high class" ? Who will come and stay instead? I think that the condo they already built has ruined OOB..because there is no straight shot of the pier on the strip (even if it is sad looking),. In addition, what type of reatil shops are going in? The condo is nice, but it looks too "expensive" for OOB...OOb isn't and doesnt need to be cape elizabeth or falmouth. I think that this new hotel is a great idea, perhaps not so tall, but that along with it OOB needs to establish other rules for current businesses. Perhaps they should also rebuild the pier or repair so that it can be in view now.....I think that the amusemnt park should be torn down-- it is old, scary and outdated. They should build a nice casino, tear down some of the other run down motels/empty lots and perhaps build a nice arcade with adjoining retail shops for the "kids" who do go visit....I have lots of ideas for this place as someone who grw up here, had a father who owned a REAL surf shop there back in late 70's and 80-'s (before the touristy places took over)...but I wouldn't have had this condo as one of them right in front of the pier.

Greg of Cape Elizabeth, ME
Oct 4, 2006 10:43 AM
It will be interesting to see how OOB manages change, considering that the most effective element of change in OOB has always been, a lighted match. The foot of the pier has never really been well utilized since the 69 fire. That was the month after the first moon walk, for those old enough to remember. For decades now, the area has been occupied by cheap plywood trailer arcades and an outdoor bar, I'm surprised it lasted this long. Sure, after the hotel, or condos, whatever it is, gets built there will probably be a doorman there to keep me out, but the honky tonk of OOB will not be eliminated. Nor will it by this project. If you build a castle in the sand you will still get ants.

Oct 4, 2006 9:15 AM
I aggree with ES, OOB is in dyer need of some economic developement. This project is a great opportunity to get old orchard back on the map. Had the 3.9 earthquake hit oob this week the town would have been destroyed with all of the 100 year old shacks falling down. What a concept a modern parking garage in OOB! The town needs some serious upgrades and we can only hope this project sails. I give Tim Swenson credit. Now if he were proposing a mega-casino on the strip that would be even better! Wake up OOB!

Oct 4, 2006 9:14 AM
ES I agree completely!
Fine, modernize or whatever, but give us back our pier and amusements. And a reason for people to go there. That "hotel" at the pier is a disgrace and has ruined what little hope there ever was of restoring the area. Why would anyone want to go to OOB now? Yes, and remove the dilapidated buildings, and especially all the sleazy scumming bars. Every one of them.

We would go every summer as kids. I remember the incredible sounds of the carousel ( a REAL carousel) and the smells wafting all the way up the hill to where we used to park. What excitement! Great beach, wonderful arcardes, beautiful amusements. How we miss the carousel and Noahs Ark! All where that crap-hole hotel is now standing.

I can't imagine why anyone would ever go to OOB.

10-25-2006, 09:43 AM
Sanford residents to decide whether they are city dwellers

Next month, Sanford voters will make a symbolic yet meaningful decision about their community's future: Should Sanford call itself a town or a city?
The York County town of 21,735 residents was Maine's eighth- largest community in 2005, and the state's second-largest town, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot would make Sanford a city, though it would only take effect after the community's population reaches 30,000. It's unclear when that might happen. Sanford's population grew by about 1,000 residents from 2000-2005.
Town Councilor Brad Littlefield believes the proposed name change would improve Sanford's cachet.
He also believes it would be helpful for local officials to compare their community to Maine's larger cities as they pursue revitalization plans.
Last December, the Town Council approved an ambitious $78 million plan for redeveloping downtown neighborhoods near the Mousam River.
There is opposition to the name change, Littlefield acknowledged. After all, Sanford residents have long thought of their community as a town. Littlefield is trying to bridge the divide in public opinion with the following pitch:
"We can be a city with a small-town character," he said.
Because the name change wouldn't be implemented for several years after the vote, officials would have time to change letterheads and other official documents without incurring large costs, according to Littlefield.
The election results may be interpreted as an indicator of whether Sanford voters are in the mood for big changes in their community.
Councilor Maura Herlihy said she will be interested in the outcome of the vote. She believes that Sanford is more of a city than a town, at least by Maine standards.
"Nobody realizes how big Sanford is," she said. "We're almost the size of South Portland."
There will be two other questions on the local ballot in Sanford. One would give the town manager more flexibility by eliminating language from the town's charter that assigns certain duties to the public works director.
The other question would allow school officials to treat a bond as an expense over several years, rather than charging the entire amount in the bond's first year.
Staff Writer Kevin Wack can be contacted at 282-8226 or at:

Reader comments

Marc of Portland, ME
Oct 25, 2006 9:46 AM
I think this would be a good move for the residents of Sanford to make. At the pace Southern Maine - especially York County - is growing, it won't be long before Sanford is one of the top 5 largest communities in the entire state. Changing its name from "Town" to "City" would help reinforce Sanford's state and regional importance, helping to draw new businesses, new jobs and a broader tax base.

Go for it Sanford, don't be afraid of looking to the future or change.

Concerned Citizen in Sanford/Springvale of Springvale, ME
Oct 25, 2006 9:21 AM
It's about time that Sanford be recognized as a city. That way, officials would be elected by job performance and credentials, not because they are part of the "good old boy that was born and raised here" network that refuses to accept either change or new, fresh (outside) opinions and ideas to help Sanford growth potential. As someone that was "born away" but has lived here for almost 20 years, I'd like to see different faces on the City Council, instead of those who were "born and raised here" - maybe then we could find ways to get more business here, instead of just those owned from "natives". Internation and national corporations seem to be afraid to approach Sanford, because of the lack of cooperation from the "Town Council" (in reality a bunch of "born and raised here" people, who are always voted in by their fellow "born and raised here" groupies. You never see anyone different on ballots, because the "network" makes it too difficult to get anywhere; it's always the same old names). My voice and VOTE is for the CITY of Sanford.

beal of boston, ma
Oct 25, 2006 8:21 AM
I think city government is appropriate for a municipality of Sanford's size. Although Framingham, MA is a town of over 60,000, and is still a town.

I still think it is a farce that town planners think Sanford will have a population of 30,000 by 2010 (as reported in previous articles). It still hasn't even caught up with Biddeford yet, forget about South Portland.

"Nobody realizes how big Sanford is," she said. "We're almost the size of South Portland." :lol: :lol: :lol: crack me right the fuck up. south portland has a daytime draw of almost 100,000 at x-mas and nearly 80k any other time of the year. sanford is a vacant town of 22,000. ha!

10-25-2006, 09:47 AM
OOB voters to decide fate of town-owned parcel

The future of a proposed $50 million hotel in downtown Old Orchard Beach depends on whether voters are willing to part with a strip of town-owned land next to a public restroom.
A referendum question on the Nov. 7 ballot will ask residents if they want to consider selling or leasing an approximately 3,000-square-foot parcel of public land, and the air rights above it, between the railroad tracks and West Grand Avenue. Local developer Tim Swenson is seeking to use the land for his latest project, an eight-story hotel with an attached parking garage that would straddle the train tracks.
Some people say they support selling the land in order to explore what could be a major economic opportunity for Old Orchard. Other have spoken out against making the land available because they believe Swenson's proposed hotel is out of keeping with the town's essential character.
Even if voters agreed to sell or rent the land, Swenson would still have to obtain permission from the Town Council and the Planning Board before he could build the hotel. Because of the building's height, he needs a contract zone for the project.
The developer was the recipient of the first contract zone awarded in Old Orchard Beach for The Grand Victorian, a $20 million retail and residential complex he has nearly completed across the street from the proposed hotel.
Some residents don't support the land sale. Joe Mokarzel, owner of the Atlantis and Sea Drift motels, said he opposes selling the land because he believes Swenson's projects are ruining the carnival atmosphere of downtown. It is this sort of affordable fun that tourists expect to find in Old Orchard, he said.
"It's becoming a cement jungle as far as I'm concerned," Mokarzel said.
But Swenson's spokesman, Randy Seaver, said he believes that a majority of Old Orchard residents feel otherwise. For the last several years, polls have consistently shown that one of the highest priorities for residents is creating more of a four-season economy. With a year-round conference center planned for the hotel, this project would help promote that goal, he said.
Furthermore, Seaver said, the vote on whether to sell the land is not a referendum on the project as it is currently proposed. There will be ample opportunity for residents to change or reject the hotel plans throughout what is expected to be a two-year permitting process, he said.
Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:

10-25-2006, 09:48 AM
Managing change tops agenda in OOB race

OLD ORCHARD BEACH - Old Orchard Beach is undergoing a lot of change these days, with a wave of new development. Many of the six candidates running for three Town Council seats say they want to help ensure that these changes remain consistent with residents' vision for their community.
Most candidates also point out that the limitations of the town's public infrastructure, particularly its water and sewer systems, could put an unwanted halt to this development. Several candidates emphasize the need for drawing up a plan to make these repairs over the coming years. Some said they would like to put a bond proposal for this work on the ballot by next June, while others believe that it cannot be accomplished that quickly.
AGE: 44
PERSONAL: Married, one child
ADDRESS: 59 Fern Ave.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, political science, Rutgers University; master's degree, public administration, George Washington University
OCCUPATION: Runs a property management company
ON THE ISSUES: Dayton said her top priorities include Old Orchard's aging water and sewer systems and updating the comprehensive plan.
Old Orchard's water and sewer systems need up to $80 million in upgrades, and the town has not yet come up with a plan for addressing this problem, Dayton said. If elected, she said, she would work toward developing a strategy for scheduling this work and paying for it through a combination of bonds and contributions from developers.
"I know it's a big issue and has to be tackled," she said. "I'm not scared of tackling it."
Dayton said she would also work toward bringing the comprehensive plan up to date and attracting families to town to boost school enrollment. The current plan is 15 years old and should have been updated five years ago, she said.
AGE: 45
PERSONAL: Married, two children
ADDRESS: 102 Ross Road
EDUCATION: Old Orchard Beach High School; associate degree, Casco Bay College
OCCUPATION: Assistant to director of Maine Turnpike Authority
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Two terms on Town Council, 2002-2006
ON THE ISSUES: Frenette said her top priority would be fixing deficiencies in the town's infrastructure, such as the sewer and storm water drainage systems. Maintenance has been deferred for too long, she said, and the limitations of these systems threaten to become a brake on economic expansion in Old Orchard.
"Until we address these issues, there's no way for the town to grow," she said.
Frenette wants the council reach a consensus on a bond package to pay for the water and sewer system improvements that would likely be presented to voters as a special referendum.
She said she is pleased with the development that the Town Council has helped encourage in Old Orchard over the last four years and wants to see it continue.
AGE: 39
PERSONAL: Married, four children
ADDRESS: Willow Creek Lane
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, communications, Saint Joseph's College
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Three years on the school board in Greenfield, Mass.; 1? years on the Greenfield Town Council
ON THE ISSUES: Henry said his top priority is to focus on the interests of year-round Old Orchard residents. He said he believes the Town Council often puts a greater emphasis on serving the needs of tourists than on the needs of residents.
"There's a lot of talk about wanting to make Old Orchard a year-round community," he said. "When it comes to taking that action, I think they fall short." He said he would focus on basic quality-of-life issues for residents.
As an example of something he'd like to change, he cited the new public restrooms by Memorial Park that will close for the winter. Henry said he would also try to recruit year-round businesses to Old Orchard and work to fix the town's aging public infrastructure.
AGE: 48
PERSONAL: Single, four children
ADDRESS: Benoit Avenue
EDUCATION: New Britain High School, New Britain, Conn.
ON THE ISSUES: Hutchins said he believes there is ample room for improvement in the way the current Town Council is operating. He said he was disappointed with the council's failure to launch a redevelopment of The Ballpark and he believes the Grand Victorian is too large for its downtown location. The candidate, who has made four previous unsuccessful bids for a council seat, said he would work toward creating a community center at The Ballpark, keeping taxes down, and updating Old Orchard's comprehensive plan.
AGE: 64
ADDRESS: 6 Long Cove Drive
EDUCATION: Associate degree, Massachusetts Bay Community College
OCCUPATION: Retired as Arlington, Mass., deputy fire chief
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Two terms on Town Council, 2002-2006
ON THE ISSUES: Long said his principal goal is to help manage growth in Old Orchard while maintaining fiscal discipline and balancing the concerns of the different sectors of the community. He also said it is critical for the town to examine the deferred maintenance on its public infrastructure and to come up with a strategic plan for repairing the roads, sewers and drainage systems.
Paying for this work will likely involve obtaining contributions from developers, seeking grants, and issuing bonds, he said. Long said this will take some time and he does not believe the council will be ready to put a proposal out to vote by next June.
He also said he wants to make sure the town continues to provide the services that businesses need to keep Old Orchard's tourism industry, its economic mainstay, viable and strong.
AGE: 71
PERSONAL: Married, four children
ADDRESS: 114 Ross Road
EDUCATION: Old Orchard Beach High School; bachelor's degree, government, University of Maine; master's degree, educational administration, University of Southern Maine
OCCUPATION: Teacher's aide at Loranger Middle School; Old Orchard town manager, 1975-1990; former Old Orchard chief assessor
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Served in Maine House of Representatives, 1956-1964; House Clerk, 1965-1967; seven years on Old Orchard School Board
ON THE ISSUES: Plante said he was motivated to run by what he characterized as the disregard for public opinion the town government had shown in its handling of the possible sale of The Ballpark earlier this year.
"I thought the people were misinformed then they were insulted," he said. "They were told they didn't know what they were voting on. They were told they'd have to be 're-educated.'"
With 33 years of government experience, Plante said he would be an effective advocate for residents. "I think I'd make a pretty good watchdog for the townspeople, watching that people be treated fairly, that people not be bullied," he said.
AGE: 43
PERSONAL: Married, four children
ADDRESS: 6 Orchard Hill Terrace
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, human resource management, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth
OCCUPATION: Special education technician at Jameson School in Old Orchard
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Old Orchard Town Council, 2003-2006; three years on Old Orchard School Board
ON THE ISSUES: Rague said she wants to manage growth in Old Orchard so that it benefits the entire community while seeking new avenues of economic development.
Despite the setbacks with the town's most recent attempt to sell The Ballpark, she said she still favors trying to find a community consensus on what to do with the property.
She said she would like to see the council come up with a bond package for much-needed water and sewer system repairs throughout town.
Rague said she was pleased with the direction the town has been moving in the last few years and believes it will continue. "We're right on edge," she said. "We're right at that edge of some other good things happening."
AGE: 44
ADDRESS: 1 Hilltop Drive
EDUCATION: Old Orchard Beach High School
OCCUPATION: Owner, Loading Dock Equipment of Maine, Scarborough, a distributor of freight moving systems
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Old Orchard Planning Board, 2000-2004, two years as chairman
ON THE ISSUES: As a lifelong resident, Tousignant said he recognizes how much Old Orchard has changed in recent years and he wants to help balance these changes with the needs of the community.
Tousignant said he believes new development in Old Orchard is necessary but he thinks it may be occurring too fast and without enough oversight.
"We need to be cautious, maybe slow down a little with where we're going," he said. "Let the businesspeople build what they need, yet the citizens still have control of the community."
Tousignant said he recognizes the needs of Old Orchard's water and sewer systems are drastic. As a businessperson, he said he is uncomfortable with proposals to pay for the repairs entirely through long-term bonds. He said he would favor a combination of bonds and up-front payments through a small tax-rate increase.

10-31-2006, 07:28 AM
Saco Island plan gives hope for future

As Saco's mayor, I have seen the face of my community, and the face of Maine, change significantly. So I was eager to read the recent Brookings Institution report and its conclusions about Maine's economic future.
Most compelling to me was, "The bottom line: Maine's traditional regional centers -- the perfect place in which to counter sprawl with 'smart growth' -- stand ready and able to absorb huge shares of the state's projected growth if only Maine can find ways to utilize them."
How true. Yet, breathing life into a once-thriving downtown district, while an exciting prospect, is a daunting task. Frankly, I'm not sure the public sector is as nimble as it should be in considering new ideas.
In Saco a developer has proposed to renovate several mill buildings that have been empty for more than 20 years. It's a sweeping proposal that invests between $90 million and $100 million in a gateway property between Saco and Biddeford known as "Saco Island."
The plan comes up for a preliminary vote on Monday. If approved, it would bring new residents to the core of our city.
It would modernize the district, including wireless Internet throughout, making Saco Island attractive to high-tech, higher education and "new economy" enterprises. It would also encourage the growth of passenger rail service in Maine, as new residents travel to their jobs in Portland or Boston, or folks from other towns travel to Saco for their new jobs.
In short, the proposal stimulates robust economic growth, concentrated in the core of a Maine city, where infrastructure already exists to support that growth.
This contrasts with phenomena produced by larger economic forces. A global economy has caused manufacturing jobs to flee Maine, while more people "from away" move in to secure coastal property and shut out the natives.
We continue to build malls and homogenize ourselves, and risk losing what makes living in Maine unique. Government stands by and watches as we endure flight from our cities into the suburbs, the carving of farmland into subdivisions, more strain on natural resources, our children leaving the state for better jobs, and the extermination of downtown business districts.
You would think political leaders would welcome the opportunity to counter these trends. I caution you not to be overconfident in that conclusion.
At Saco Island, the developers have asked to partner with the city. The proposal absolves the city from spending any up-front cash or borrowed money.
The developers want to lease and eventually buy city-owned land for parking, and want to create a new TIF district.
This would reinvest most of the new property taxes back into the project. After 30 years the city would tax 100 percent of the new value.
The city gets some new revenue right away, and the developer immediately invests about $20 million for infrastructure improvements, renovations to deteriorating historic buildings and environmental remediation. (As in most Maine mill towns, 200 years of heavy manufacturing have left their environmental "calling card.")
I don't agree with everything in the Brookings report, but I do agree that adapting to the future requires a change in our thinking. Government needs to be far more open to ideas that pay dividends down the road.
That is not so easy for a city councilor who gets a lot of "coffee-shop advice" to shun change and think only for today, the short term. I sympathize, because I also get a daily dose of the same coffee-shop logic.
But on Nov. 6, when the Saco City Council votes on Saco Island, I believe it will be also be a referendum on whether Mainers can adapt.
Can we be nimble and plan wisely for the balance of this century? I hope so. This is crucial not only for Saco, but for the entire state.
- Special to the Press Herald

11-01-2006, 09:53 AM
Deal proposed for Saco Island project

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By SETH HARKNESS, Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

THE DEVELOPERS buy 4 acres of city-owned land near the Amtrak station on Saco Island for $500,000. The land would be used for a parking lot.
THE CITY uses the $500,000 to build a new train station.

THE DEVELOPERS get a 95 percent tax rebate for 15 years, then a 90 percent tax rebate for the next 15 years. The rebate is capped at $15 million in present value.
SACO - The city has reached a tentative agreement to sell a piece of publicly owned land to the developer of Saco Island and use the proceeds to build a new train station as part of the $100 million project.
Under the proposed agreement, the developer, Saco Island LLC, would reduce its request for a tax refund.
City councilors and the developer negotiated the deal at a workshop Monday night, after a month of negotiations. A public hearing and vote on the agreement are slated for a council meeting at 7 p.m. next Monday.
The deal differs significantly from what the developer originally requested.
Saco Island LLC had proposed leasing the city-owned lot on the island for $1 a year during the initial stages of the redevelopment and then buying it for $385,000. It also proposed a 100 percent refund of property taxes under a tax increment financing plan for the property.
Under the new deal, the developer would buy the city land immediately for $500,000 and the city would use the money to build a train station within three years.
Saco Island LLC has also reduced its tax refund request to 95 percent for 15 years, followed by 90 percent for another 15 years.
Saco Mayor Mark Johnston said that most councilors support the aspect of the agreement involving the land and the train station, but there is opposition to the tax refund.
"We don't have all the votes locked in," said Saco Island LLC General Manager Sam Spencer.
Saco Island LLC announced plans in mid-September to transform the mill complex that stands as a gateway between Saco and Biddeford.
The investors proposed redeveloping the buildings with a mixture of retail, residential and commercial space.
They also laid out plans to build a marina and a cluster of high-end condominiums on 6 acres of undeveloped waterfront land on the east end of the island.
From the start, the developer said the large up-front costs of restoring the old buildings meant Saco Island LLC could make the project work only if the city worked with it.
The developer hoped to receive a tax break of $35 million and a discounted price on the use of city land at the top of Saco Island, where it intends to build a parking lot.
Councilor Eric Cote said he was uncomfortable with the developer's original requests but he supports the agreement on the parking lot and the train station. With the developer paying $500,000 up front, he said the city would recover its costs for the land and receive enough money to build "a modest train station."
Spencer said he, too, is pleased with the compromise.
The developer has touted the environmental benefits of the project, which it says encourages growth in an urban setting rather than promoting sprawl.
Spencer said a new train station, making it more attractive for residents to ride the Downeaster, would be a critical component of the development.
There is less consensus on the tax refund.
Cote said he opposes the tax agreement because he believes the developer has not yet shown that its project requires that much public support. Councilor David Tripp said he opposes granting the refund because it is too large.
If the six-member council splits evenly when it votes next week, Johnston, a strong supporter of the Saco Island redevelopment plan, would cast the deciding vote.
Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:

Reader comments

Bob of Saco, ME
Nov 1, 2006 10:13 AM
This is a good idea with an economic benefit to the residents of Saco and Biddeford. The TIF is an investment that will have an impact on the whole town in the years to come. Which would you rather have: acres of rotting buildings or a vibrant residential/commercial development? No investor group is going to do this on their own. Sure, the town incurs some risk, but they manage a higher risk now with the current situation. The Town Council needs to take the long view here and approve the proposal.

rd of arundel, me
Nov 1, 2006 7:54 AM
this same offer should be open to anyone for at lest a year or a better offer

Marilyn of Saco, ME
Nov 1, 2006 7:53 AM
The developers are asking the City of Saco to refund all/most of their property taxes to fund the redevelopment project. This request is absurd! It's basically asking the City to fund the development project. There's not enough benefit to the City of Saco to warrant such a huge expense. It's reasonable to ask the City to work with the developer, but not to ask that most of their taxes be refunded. Let the developers come up with something feasible!

11-09-2006, 11:49 PM
Saco City Council has fate of Saco Island plan in its hands

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Portland Press Herald Monday, November 6, 2006

A tentative deal for the development of Saco Island will come to the Saco City Council tonight, and it has a lot to recommend it.
While an up-or-down decision remains in the hands of the council, an agreement last week that ironed out some of the project's parameters would seem to have helped Saco Island LLC in its quest to construct its $100 million project.
The island, which sits in the Saco River dividing that city and Biddeford, is now occupied by aging and mostly empty mill buildings and several acres of open space.
Saco Island LLC proposes to convert the mill structures into a combination of retail, residential and commercial space, while building a cluster of high-rise condominiums and a marina on 6 nearby acres.
After some councilors and other officials expressed reservations about the tax breaks being offered the firm to entice it to redevelop the site, a compromise was reached last week.
According to its provisions, the developers would spend $500,000 to buy a 4-acre site near the city's Amtrak stop. The city would use the money to build a new enclosed station and use the site for a parking lot.
Saco Island LLC would get a 30-year deal on taxes that would provide a 95 percent tax break for 15 years and a 90 percent break for another 15, though the deal is capped at $15 million in present value.
In return, the city would presumably see jobs increase and a tremendous property tax payoff down the road -- not to mention a housing cluster that would help combat sprawl.
The question is, will Saco be better or worse off if the project goes forward. There's no real way to know, but without it, nothing will change.

Reader comments

Earwicker of Biddeford, ME
Nov 6, 2006 7:59 AM
This will do nothing for or about the permanent underclass living across the river in Biddeford. They must be raised up out of their drunkeness, poverty of spirit, desperation and anger and given a real stake in the outcome. It is time for 300 years of discrimination against French people to end. French people, however low they might be now, were once a proud and dignified people. Let us restore the French to their constructive heritage, and prosper together as one people. Biddeford must rise out of the ashes.

11-09-2006, 11:55 PM
Voters: Hotel plan's size made us balk
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By SETH HARKNESS, Staff Writer Portland Press Herald Thursday, November 9, 2006

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Election 2006

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OLD ORCHARD BEACH - No one can say Tim Swenson wasn't thinking big when he proposed an eight-story hotel in downtown Old Orchard. Maybe too big.
A day after voters decided not to sell a parcel of town-owned land where Swenson had hoped to build, the local developer said he may try to redesign or relocate his $50 million Old Orchard Beach House Hotel.
Swenson sought the land along West Grand Avenue and the air rights above it to construct what he described as a showpiece building: a 100-room hotel with an attached parking garage straddling the train tracks.
The referendum failed by a vote of 1,886 to 1,794 and at least one member of the Old Orchard Beach Town Council said the decision can be interpreted as a final verdict. "I really do believe this project will not go forward," said councilor Jim Long.
On Wednesday, several voters who opposed the project said their decision was largely based on the size of the proposed building. Many voters, like Jeanne LaChance, said they already felt dwarfed by Swenson's other project, the nearly complete five-story Grand Victorian, and didn't want downtown altered more by an even larger building just up the street.
"Big, tall buildings in the downtown district right now is just not what everybody looks for," said LaChance, owner of J.J.'s Eatery on West Grand Avenue. "I just think (eight) stories is a bit much."
Swenson acknowledged that he had heard the same concerns from many residents. "The height came out to be the outstanding issue," he said.
Swenson said he is exploring several options, from building it at another site across Old Orchard Street to designing a scaled-down version.
Beside the project's size, LaChance said she was also uncomfortable with the pace of change Swenson is introducing to Old Orchard. The developer has maintained his projects will develop more of a year-round economy in the seasonal resort, and LaChance, whose restaurant was nearly empty at lunchtime Wednesday, said she would like to see that happen. Even so, she said she would rather see Old Orchard develop at a more measured rate.
"It's a little premature. Let's see what happens with the Grand Victorian," she said. "Let's walk, don't run."
Old Orchard Town Manager Jim Thomas takes a different view. He said residents need to realize the town cannot continue to control spending and taxes indefinitely without expanding the tax base. Thomas said he believes residents voted against their own economic interest in Tuesday's referendum because they did not have accurate information about the hotel project and its benefits.
"I think the public voted based on emotion, based on hearsay -- they didn't vote on facts," Thomas said. "I think the public is still a little confused about what economic development is about."
But Long, the town councilor, said the voters he spoke with objected mostly to what they perceived as the top-down manner in which the hotel project was proposed. Long said many voters received the impression that there would be little they could do to stop or change the project if they agreed to sell the land.
"It shows the process disenfranchised the community and that was a mistake," he said.
Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:

Reader comments

Eileen of OOB, ME
Nov 9, 2006 5:17 PM
Once again Jim Thomas assumes that anyone who doesn't agree with him is stupid or ignorant!

Sue of Saco, ME
Nov 9, 2006 1:44 PM
It seems that people who visit Maine have their preferences of the places they like to visit and they visit those places year-after-year. If you like York, Wells, Ogunquit or Bar Harbor, you tend not to like OOB and vice-versa. Do OOB town officials really think that people who visit the more laid-back areas of Maine are going to begin visiting OOB because there are a couple of fancy high-rises going up? I think it's going to be a tough sell, but they may drive their returning visitors away before they get any new visitors to come in.

Steve of Old Orchard Beach, Me
Nov 9, 2006 11:46 AM
"Old Orchard Town Manager Jim Thomas takes a different view."

Wow, what a shocker!

"He said residents need to realize the town cannot continue to control spending and taxes indefinitely without expanding the tax base."

Take a look down East Grand Avenue and count the sky-rise condominiums.... OOB has been expanding it's tax base for a very long time... Yet, whenever infrastructure is needed, it's always "Well, if you want that, we need to build this".

"Thomas said he believes residents voted against their own economic interest in Tuesday's referendum because they did not have accurate information about the hotel project and its benefits."

Ahh yes, the usual "Uninformed, mis-information" routine. What the town manager is trying to say is, since the vote didn't go the other way, the information must have been bad. Just like the "non-binding" referendum to sell the town playing fields, right? Give me a break.... The citizen's have now voted AGAINST selling town-owned land twice.

When I read this I cringe. Instead of working WITH the citizens of Old Orchard Beach, he continues to label us as misinformed, unintelligent morons.

I do not hate the Town Manager and I am not against development. However, I've lived in this town my entire life and have seen many ups and downs, but I have have never seen such a disregard for public opinion.

My decision to vote "no" on this question was primarily based on one factor -- mistrust. The Town Manager is being paid to work FOR the town, not AGAINST it.

Tim of OOB, Me
Nov 9, 2006 11:00 AM
Old Orchard Beach Air Rights Defeat, A missed Opportunity,
The Old Orchard Beach Local Referendum, The Air Rights Question has been defeated. Much to the disappointment of many citizens of Old Orchard Beach. It failed by 92 votes but the defeat has a much higher number of negative results. First and foremost the loss of half a million dollars per year in revenue. Second is Old Orchard has now made it clear we are NOT open for business and economic development. The third result indicates citizens are content with and inadequate sewer systems, un-repaired roads and lack of infrastructure for future development. Finally the vote also indicates Old Orchard Beach residents welcome higher taxes to support the lack growth in the town. I by far believe the greatest impact of this vote is future developers will now stay away and we will stay at status quo for years to come, mainly because this vote was for the soul purpose of deciding weather we wanted economic development or not. We can now look forward to an empty Ball park, lack of new business, higher taxes and failing infrastructure. We should just board up the entired town like we do in the winter and call it an era. Lets have the tourists go to another town and spend their money! Good Job!

04-12-2007, 07:57 AM
Taking toughness out of Bacon Street

BIDDEFORD - Most Bacon Street residents agree the problems in their neighborhood begin at night.
After dark, residents say, groups of young people often gather along the residential street that runs several blocks between Alfred and High streets, just south of the city center. Residents say the rowdiness generally consists of late-night shouting and vandalism.
Almost everyone who lives in the Bacon Street neighborhood, an area with a large percentage of subsidized housing, seems to have been affected.
"We've had our door kicked in three times," said Marion Harrison, 54, who has lived on the corner of Bacon and Foss Streets, across from the Biddeford Police Department, for 13 years.
Bacon Street has gained a reputation in Biddeford over the years for being a tough neighborhood. City officials are looking for ways to help change that, starting with a potluck supper at 6:30 p.m. today at St. Andre's Church. Residents and property owners are invited to meet with the mayor and the police chief at the supper to discuss problems in the neighborhood.
City officials said several complaints from Bacon Street residents in the past few months prompted them to call the meeting.
After the city refurbished a vacant lot on Foav Court into green space, Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre said some residents complained it had become a gathering place for rowdy youths.
Biddeford Community Development director Linda Hardacker said city officials were also concerned about vandalism at a new park next to St. Andre's Church and about reports of young children being harassed on their way home from after-school programs.
The city has money to invest in the neighborhood through a $483,000 federal grant, according to Hardacker. She said she has gone door to door with fliers and handed out invitations at the Stone Soup Food Pantry on Bacon Street to encourage residents to attend the meeting Thursday and become more involved in planning improvements for their neighborhood.
There are already signs of progress. In the past couple of years, Project Canopy, a state-funded community forestry program, built the small park next to St. Andre's Church at the south end of Bacon Street. The city removed eight dump-truck loads of trash from the lot on Foav Court last fall and plans to build a playground on what is now a muddy lot on Pierson's Lane.
Some residents said they feel the city needs to expand its police presence on Bacon Street. Several residents interviewed Monday said they would like the police to enforce the city's curfew more tightly.
Though the Biddeford Police Department is on the corner of Bacon and Alfred streets, residents said they rarely see officers outside their cruisers.
"It would help if they walked around," said Mike Killinger, a Bacon Street resident who volunteers at the food pantry.
Police Chief Beaupre said his department has stepped up patrols in recent years to coincide with neighborhood events such as dinners at St. Andre's. He said that the Bacon Street neighborhood has improved greatly in the past 10 years and that there are other sections of Biddeford where police receive far more complaints.
In his opinion, Beaupre said, Bacon Street's reputation is no longer based on reality.
"It's just a street with a bad name," he said.
Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at: sharkness@pressherald.com

Reader comments

reader of Portland-Boston, ME
Apr 12, 2007 8:40 AM
Are we talking black youths or white youths causing trouble in Biddeford?

Oldguy of Biddeford, ME
Apr 12, 2007 8:36 AM
Bacon St. actually is a neighborhood that includes streets from Hill St. to Clifford St. up to Pool St.. It isn't just one street.
Subsidized housing plays a minimal role in the decline of the area. The death knell sounded years ago when the textile mills closed and people no longer walked to work. Then eventually the older folks died off or moved away and the area's apartment houses were sold to absentee landlords.
These absentee landlords live in other towns and hire management to run the buildings. The tenants aren't screened well, the buildings aren't maintained properly, and the city suffers for it. This is a big problem because years ago most apartment house owners lived in the buildings and policed them.
Community block grants also hurt the area because they require a percentage of the housing to be low income.
Improvement could come if more apartment buildings were sold to owners who will live in them or nearby.
The police chief is turning his head. A few years ago when there was a walking patrolman the area quieted down. A teen center in that neighborhood also helped but it was closed due to lack of funding and a change in that building's ownership.

Tim3 of Biddeford, ME
Apr 12, 2007 8:27 AM
"The city removed eight dump-truck loads of trash from the lot on Foav Court last fall"...How did one little lot have a chance to accumulate eight loads of garbage? Oh right...because it's in downtown Biddeford.

Fathead of Saco: They're paying to cops to catch speeders on the other end of Alfred St... that's where the real danger is! I saw two cops looking for violators last night within 1,000 feet of each other. Downtown Biddeford is a lost cause... onto the shopping district.

jr#2 of portland, OR
Apr 12, 2007 8:14 AM
It's a problem where parents cannot control their children yet control them selves.
It's an area conjested with slime,there should be some kind of bug spray to get rid of all those bad cockroaches,the jails are already filling up.
There should be a police officer in the area at all times,it may keep some of the area under control.
When you do not work and only have a pair of shoes and a pair of holy pants collecting welfare,you wonder why there's so much crap going on.
Residents of bacon st,get a job take a bath once and a while and keep your bratty kids out of trouble along with yourselves,because good citizens like myself are tired of hearing about all the bull crap going on.
Your a dieing breed down there,and that's good news!!

Tim of Weld, ME
Apr 12, 2007 7:43 AM

A pot luck supper? Yeah, that'll get crime under control. Might want to consider changing the name of the street too since "It's just a street with a bad name".

Problem solved!

Dave of Portland, ME
Apr 12, 2007 7:37 AM
This is a common problem with subsidesed housing neighborhoods and a lack of law enforcement. Both easily solved.

04-13-2007, 06:03 AM
Police chief urges residents of Bacon Street to call him
E-mail this page Reader Comments (below)
By SETH HARKNESS, Staff Writer Portland Press Herald Friday, April 13, 2007

BIDDEFORD - Denise Dyer bought a house just off Bacon Street a year ago. Since then, she has discovered that she can't have a barbecue in her backyard because of crowds of rowdy teenagers that congregate in an open lot next door.
She also has come to expect graffiti defacing her fence and broken glass tossed into her lawn. "I can't even put my dog on the run without checking my yard first," she said.
Dyer was one of about 40 people -- a mix of newcomers, property owners, long-time residents, and social service workers -- who met with city officials Thursday night to discuss problems in the Bacon Street area.
Much of the discussion centered on the activities of large groups of teenagers who congregate outside at different locations in the neighborhood. People said the packs of young people were frequently loud and profane, often mixing underage drinking with acts of vandalism and disrespect for neighboring residents.
"If you go by at 8 o'clock at night, there will be 50 or 60 kids out there and you have to stop. They won't even let you by," said Guy Scribner, whose wife has owned an apartment building on Bacon Street for five years.
Joe Corriveau owns three rental properties on Bacon and nearby Emery streets. He said he lost two tenants after teenagers began smoking cigarettes on his back porch and gathering in his driveway. "They couldn't take it. It was too noisy," he said.
Bacon Street, which runs a few blocks between Alfred and High streets, is anchored by the Biddeford Police Station on one end and St. Andre's Church, where the meeting was held, on the other. Historically, the street was home to many boarding houses that housed immigrants who had come to work in the mills. Most of the buildings in the neighborhood now are large, multi-unit apartment buildings, and a high percentage of residents qualify for subsidized housing. A sidewalk murder in 1988 helped lend the street a reputation for being a tough section of town.
The city called the neighborhood meeting after residents complained that the city's effort to reclaim abandoned lots and convert them into parks was creating gathering places for the packs of misbehaving youths. In response to these concerns, several people at the meeting mentioned the possibility of forming a neighborhood organization in which residents would look out for each other and, when necessary, call police.
Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre urged residents to call police more often. He said the Police Department makes staffing decisions based on the number of complaints they receive from particular locations.
"You want more response? You have to call in," he said.
Contact Staff Writer Seth Harkness at 282-8225 or at:

Reader comments

Oldguy of Biddeford, ME
Apr 13, 2007 6:50 AM
A police chief that sits on the corner of Bacon and Alfred streets and doesn't know there is a problem on Bacon Street shouldn't be police chief. This guy has been in that position for too many years and he should be canned.
I live in another area of the city and have had to call the police a few times. They come-after a while. I've never had much success with them solving a crime. A few years ago it was a little better but many of those officers have retired.
My condolences to Bacon Street area residents that want relief. The neighborhood watch is a good idea. Also call the codes office and have them crack down on the buildings there. If they don't call the state authorities. I know some in Biddeford have had to do this before the city would move.
The current Mayor has done little or nothing. I hear he's not running again. I'm in hopes we get a mayor this fall similar to the one we had a few years ago. He did a lot for the city.