GrowSmart Maine Testifies in Support of Downtown Revitalization

Recommendations to help Downtown Revitalization efforts in Maine

Prepared for the

Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future

 

Senator Goodall, Representative Berry and members of the Joint Select Committee on  Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, my name is Nancy Smith and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. As many of you know from our previous interactions with the committee, GrowSmart Maine is a statewide non-profit membership-based organization working to grow Maine's economy, protect its distinctive character, and enhance our state's quality places. I regret that previously scheduled commitments prevent me or other GrowSmart Maine representatives from presenting this testimony at today’s Public Hearing.

As a part of our commitment to strengthening Maine’s economy, GrowSmart Maine is particularly enthusiastic about well grounded, thoughtful and creative proposals which seek to grow the economy in a sustainable manner while at the same time preserving our state’s unique character and quality of place. We appreciate the opportunity to offer recommendations related to your interest in downtown revitalization.

I would first note that GrowSmart Maine fully endorses the action items outlined in the March 22nd memo from the Maine Downtown Center of the Maine Development Foundation.  We offer a few additional items which also have the support of the Maine Downtown Center/MDF, listed below. 

In addition, I want to note that the original concept draft of LD 90 included not just Maine’s downtowns but rural areas as well.   As noted in the original draft language,

“The bill proposes to strengthen the State's place-based economic engines, including, but not limited to, downtowns, farms, forests and waters, to facilitate and accelerate economic growth.”

I encourage the committee to continue to look to both our downtowns and our rural areas as key economic drivers for Maine.  We truly need both to be strong and prosperous for all of Maine to thrive.

As for the specific additional recommendations for Maine’s downtowns:

  • In order to establish a consistent and harmonized set of building codes, including a code for the rehabilitation of existing building, support for statewide applicability of the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MUBEC).  LD 977, will do just that, and is being worked in the LCRED Committee.
  • In order to focus resources, both public and private, towards Maine’s innovation economy, which thrives in our downtowns, support state investments in the Maine Technology Institute with bonds which fund research, development and commercialization investments.
  • In order to expand options and reduce costs for energy, increase access to natural gas in Maine downtowns.  There are several bills before the Energy, Utilities and Technology to address this opportunity.
  • In addition, I encourage you to engage in the process as LD 1275 works its way through the Legislature.   “An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Maine Economic Growth Council Regarding Prosperity”, sponsored by Senator Woodbury, which is a compilation of numerous strategic actions compiled from several key studies completed in the past few years, including GrowSmart Maine’s Charting Maine’s Future. 
  • You will find our own update to this report, Charting Maine’s Future: Making Headway to be invaluable as well.
  • In addition, there are two proposals coming from the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) which will significantly strengthen investments in revitalizing downtowns.

o   Provide the  Maine Seed Capital Tax Credit Program to downtown projects

o   Provide funding through their Economic Recovery Loan program at prime, rather than the current “prime + 2”.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to present these remarks.

 __________________________________________

 

 

JHR Development of Maine, LLC

169 Park Row, Suite 5,
Brunswick, Me 04011, (207) 729-0166

4-2-2013
Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future
100 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0115

Dear Sen. Goodall, Rep. Berry and the Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future,

Our small company has worked closely with The Town of Brunswick to revitalize a former rail yard, also a Brownfield site, into a thriving new district mixed with retail, restaurant, commercial office and medical office uses. We have recently completed a 52 room Inn and hope to add a residential component in the near future. All of this is built around a new transportation and Visitor Center that has welcomed the arrival of the Amtrak Downeaster, Concord Trailways and a local bus service called the Brunswick Explorer. All of it has been developed since 2008.

I applaud this committee’s efforts to address issues related to growing Maine’s workforce, assisting small businesses and nurturing entrepreneurial spirit. I am especially pleased to hear that you recognize the need to focus on downtown revitalization as a means to compliment those efforts.

All too often we are reminded that our local economy is sliding backwards, that our workforce is not in position to meet the future, and that plain and simple, we need jobs. In those ways, we are not much different than the rest of the country.

I would argue that we would do well to focus on those areas that do make us different, those special qualities that do separate us from the rest of the world as a means to entice the smart growth that creates the revenue necessary to fill our needs. We need to continue to promote those special qualities.

There are so many things occurring naturally that make this State special. We can all name them….the coast, the mountains, the rivers, forests and farms. And we need to continue preserve, protect and nurture the local environment that plays such an important role in our collective “quality of life.”

But the perspective that I’d like to lend is the one we are living in Brunswick. It’s the amenity theory….if you create a built environment where people want to live (affordably), work and play, then people will come to do just that….and thus we can supply the workforce that larger innovative employers need.

There is no greater bang for our buck, no greater area of revenue per acre than our quaint downtowns. It is simple; they are the foundation, our structure which makes Maine different and thus more marketable.

Have you ever noticed how impeccably restored classic vehicles turn heads? So do revitalized downtowns. If we want to grow our workforce, then we have to give them what they want….fun, affordable, connected, safe places with room for opportunity.

Thank you for supporting those tools at the State level (CDBG, Historic Tax Credits, Amtrak Downeaster!) that help communities retain and attract the hard working, thoughtful talent on which this State will depend.

All the best,
Michael Lyne

______________________________

Hathaway Creative Center
P.O. Box 1791
Waterville, Maine 04903
207-873-1800
www.hathawaycreativecenter.com

April 3, 2013

Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future
100 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0115

Dear Sen. Goodall, Rep. Berry and the Committee on Maine's Workforce and
Economic Future,

I wish I could be there to address you in person but, unfortunately, I will not be back in
Maine till Monday.

I did want to talk about the importance of Maine's downtowns in general and give you
an update on The Hathaway Creative Center in particular.

First, let me say that I fully support the testimony provided by both the Maine Downtown
Center and GrowSmart Maine. The key investments to be made in Maine's downtowns
are listed in the letters you have received from these two organizations.

Some of you may recall that the Hathaway project, located in downtown Waterville was
the first significant rehab project to receive historic tax credits in Maine.

After a total investment of $32million, the Hathaway came on line late in 2008 with
occupancy of the anchor tenant, MaineGeneral Hospital. The first apartment residents
moved in in May 2009. I am happy to report that there are now nearly 500 people living
and working in the building, adding vibrancy and economic activity to downtown.

The Hathaway Center has set the new standard for residential apartments as well as
office and commercial space in Central Maine. The 67 loft apartments, in particular,
have been a runaway hit. Now fully occupied with a waiting list, those spaces are
incredibly beautiful, with high ceilings, huge windows and gleaming wood floors.

For commercial offices, Hathaway anchor tenants include Cengage, TO Banknorth,
MaineGeneral Hospital Human Resources and HealthReach Community Health
Centers. Those offices occupy a total of 56,200 square feet.

Commercial inquiries have picked up markedly as of late and we just signed a 1200 sf
cafe serving breakfast and lunch and grab and go food to take back to the office or
home.

Future expansion encompasses rehabilitation of two adjacent buildings totaling 219,000
sf under my ownership. The master plan envisions more apartments, more office
space, a hotel and conference center and a culinary/hospitality institute and commercial
kitchen incubator.

The economic ripple effect of all of this is huge in Central Maine and I invite every one
of you to come take a look; it would be my pleasure to give you a personal tour. None of
this would be possible without the Maine Historic Tax Credit and I applaud the extension
of the sunset to 2023, achieved during last session.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn't talk about the draw of Maine's downtowns. We
are so fortunate to have beautiful and unique downtowns here. Not long ago I was in
Montana and, sad to say, their nicest downtown still wasn't as nice as what we would
consider our worst downtown. That isn't so much to pan Montana as to emphasize the
specialness of what we have here. And our downtowns are becoming more important –
demographics and the cost of energy have people increasingly choosing to live
downtown rather than more suburban options. Lest you think I am talking mostly about
Portland; I am not. The trend is real and accelerating in Augusta, Brunswick and
Bethel, to name just a few examples. And I have built my entire business model around
this trend.

Again thank you for your support of the historic tax credit and of Maine's downtowns.
 

Paul Boghossian

207-873-1800

 

 

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