Garbage goes, energetic economy emerges
(Saco, Maine) Here at Saco Island, we are very pleased to announce that Building #4, at the top of Saco Island and directly across from the train station, was sold yesterday afternoon to Chinburg Properties of Newmarket, New Hampshire.
Chinburg is an OUTSTANDING developer, known for building very tasteful upscale apartments, and we are so pleased that the pace of development is poised to pick up dramatically at Saco Island. We’d like to congratulate Mayor Don Pilon, city manager Rick Michaud and the Saco City Council for their strong support in making this happen. As quoted in today's Journal Tribune, “This is very exciting,” said Will Armitage, executive director of the Economic Development Corporation, in a prepared statement. “Building 4 stands at the gateway to the city, and its transformation will only accelerate the positive transformation of attitudes about doing business in Biddeford and Saco. At long last, we’re seeing the white-hot redevelopment that everyone knew was possible.”
Amid all the great news, here’s a frightening thought from a recent editorial in the Portland Press Herald: “(The MERC incinerator) was successful enough to ensure that it could have continued to take deliveries of smelly waste for many years to come, limiting the potential of the rest of downtown.”
Luckily, history took a different course, and now headlines about new economic development in downtown Biddeford-Saco are routine.
When our company bought Saco Island in 2007, one of our most important priorities was to provide strong support to local officials in Biddeford and Saco as they tried to shut down the MERC incinerator.
Today, everybody points to MERC’s exit very openly, as developer Tim Harrington did last night in this Channel 13 interview. But at the beginning, it was a very lonely fight. We were very aware of what a huge obstacle MERC was to re-development, and we knew of many deals that had soured because of the nuisances the trash plant created. But hardly anyone would talk publicly about it. It’s difficult to believe now, but Heart of Biddeford, Saco Spirit and the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t take a stand against MERC. (The Chamber, under the leadership of new executive director Craig Pendleton, finally took a pro-business, anti-MERC stand in 2012.)
We worked quietly behind the scenes, on many fronts, until 2011, when Alan Casavant ran his campaign to unseat Mayor Twomey. Then Saco Island hosted a fundraiser for Mayor Casavant at Run of the Mill Brew Pub, and he won election of November of that year. In January of 2012, right after Casavant took office, we facilitated a meeting with Biddeford officials, Saco officials and Doug Sanford, owner of the Pepperell Mill Campus, who had been in discussions with Casella. That meeting took place in Sanford’s office, overlooking the MERC plant and the Saco Falls, and it started a very important ball rolling. By July 31st of that year, the Biddeford City Council had voted to buy, close and demolish MERC.
The credit for this goes to city officials in Saco, particularly former Mayor Mark Johnston, who invested his personal blood, sweat and tears for almost three decades in the effort to close MERC. It also most definitely goes to Biddeford Mayor Casavant and the Biddeford City Council, as Saco Island owner Kevin Mattson made clear in this May, 2013 YouTube video. Quoted recently in the Press Herald, Casavant said, “When we had conversations about purchasing Maine Energy, we looked at what the domino effect would be. We recognized that once that was taken out, there would be redevelopment in the mill district.”
That city officials had the courage to lead --- at the right moments in time --- is an undeniable fact. But what is also now abundantly clear is that the message we began sending to officials in 2007, and the message that others began sending well before 2007, was right on the money. The removal of MERC would prove to be an economic catalyst.
In just two years, that has proven to be 100% true. New taxable revenue continues to be created in both Biddeford and Saco, as these stories about the “new energy” clearly demonstrate:
- Lincoln Hotel & Lofts
- The Lofts At Saco Falls
- Pepperell Mill Campus
- Palace Diner
- Run of the Mill Brew Pub
- Portland Pie Company
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear
- Banded Horn Brewery
- Pedestrian Bridge
- Impact Fitness
Best of all, THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING. At Saco Island, we salute the courage of all public officials and the many private citizens who struggled so for many years to achieve this outcome. It was a team effort, and now it’s paying off for all of us.