Scarborough Downs wants to sell almost all of its land in town other than the racetrack, with an asking price of nearly $12.2 million for more than 400 acres of prime commercial property.

The broker hired to sell the land said Wednesday that the sale is not related to Scarborough Downs’ effort to persuade Biddeford voters to allow it to operate a racetrack-slot machine casino in that city.

Andrew Ingalls of CBRE/The Boulos Co. said the search for buyers will go on regardless of the result of Biddeford’s referendum in November, the first step in what could be the relocation of Scarborough Downs to the south.

The property for sale is divided into four sections that stretch from Route 1 on the south to the Haigis Parkway on the west and Payne Road on the north. The harness racetrack is near the center of the property.

“There’s no question it’s a very pivotal piece of property for the town,” said Tom Hall, Scarborough’s town manager.

Ingalls noted that the market for commercial land isn’t strong, “but this type of property doesn’t come on the market very often.”

In addition to two narrow strips of land connecting to heavily developed Route 1, the parcels have significant frontage on the Haigis Parkway, which connects to the Maine Turnpike and has been earmarked by the town for development of office parks and light industry.

The property on Payne Road is just north of the road’s intersection with a shopping center anchored by the Cabela’s hunting and fishing store. Payne Road leads to the Maine Mall area in South Portland.

Ingalls said he has been approached by “an entertainment group” that is interested in building an amphitheater on one parcel, though its verbal offer was too low.

He said a big-box retailer requested information on the property, but such interest is routine whenever a large commercial tract goes on the market and doesn’t suggest any change in major retailers’ reluctance to expand.

The property is zoned for most business uses, but Hall said a committee in town that will recommend zoning changes to carry out Scarborough’s comprehensive plan is poised to review the part of town that includes Scarborough Downs.

The comprehensive plan envisions mixed-use development in the area, blending housing and “community-scale” retail and services, while specifically discouraging shopping centers and big-box retailers.

The plan also suggests a “main street’ in the area and a town center development. Scarborough Downs proposed using some of its slot machine proceeds for such a development in 2008, but voters in town rejected a racino proposal for the track for the second time.

Scarborough Downs contends that it’s losing money on its harness racing and needs revenue from slot machines to support that industry.

Maine law prohibits slot machines and casinos. The Hollywood Slots casino in Bangor was developed during the short time in which the state allowed racinos to open as long as host communities allowed them.

Bangor voters approved the racino in 2003, at the same time Scarborough voters rejected a racino for Scarborough Downs.

Scarborough Downs needs more than approval from Biddeford voters to move the track and open a racino. State law would have to be changed, and Scarborough Downs could have to contend with a proposal on Maine’s ballot this fall to allow a casino in Oxford County and ban similar operations within 100 miles.

Hall said he and other town officials met with Ingalls on Tuesday and told him they would like to work with any developer or developers who are interested in buying the property.

Hall said one owner for all of the parcels would be preferable, opening the door to contract zoning that would incorporate a detailed plan for development, possibly with amenities such as open space and walking trails in addition to homes, retail uses and offices.

He said the size of the property provides both opportunities and problems.

“The advantage of the Downs property is that it’s a blank canvas,” he said. “The disadvantage is, it’s blank canvas — it doesn’t have any infrastructure” such as sewer and water lines, which can be expensive to install.

Town Planner Dan Bacon said those issues can be overcome with an efficient design.

“Given its sheer size, there’s certainly an opportunity for residential (use), maybe some mixed-use buildings and a transition to commercial in a way that’s well planned and well executed,” he said.

Ingalls said there’s no timeline or deadline for the sale, and even if a buyer emerges quickly, the transaction would probably not close for at least a year.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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