Market Basket is coming to Westbrook.

The low-priced grocer will be the anchor tenant of a yet-to-be-built retail plaza at the former Pike Industries quarry on Main Street, the developer confirmed Thursday. A Walmart store initially planned for the anchor spot is no longer part of the project.

“I was able to negotiate to replace the Walmart Supercenter with Market Basket,” said Anton Melchionda, principal at Waterstone Properties Group. “We have a history with Market Basket. We’re biased, but we believe strongly that they are the premier grocery operator in the country, if not the world.”

The grocery chain operates 79 stores across New England, but only one of them is in Maine. It opened in Biddeford in 2013 and has been a hit among shoppers there. That strong customer response prompted Market Basket to consider building more stores in Maine. Early on, it was one of the rumored tenants at the Westbrook plaza. But a feud among Market Basket’s owners in 2014 possibly delayed those plans, and Walmart’s involvement in the development was announced in April 2016.

The Westbrook Planning Board approved the 500,000-square-foot shopping center in October 2016. The original developer, Jeffrey Gove, sold the project to Waterstone. Melchionda said his company will ultimately invest more than $150 million in the plaza.

Construction on traffic improvements near the site has already begun. Melchionda could not confirm any other tenants at this time, but said Market Basket and other business could open as soon as fall 2018 or spring 2019.

“Since we’ve opened our Biddeford store in 2013, we definitely have had a calling for more stores in Maine,” said Joe Schmidt, supervisor of operations at Market Basket. “It’s been on our radar screen. We’re happy that we’re able to bring our second location to Maine.”

Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant said Market Basket is the type of retailer he hoped would be part of that development.

“What we were hoping for were retailers that were not currently in Maine or that were underrepresented in Maine,” Bryant said. “That makes it more attractive and special. Certainly this fits that criteria.”

GROCERY CHAIN WRACKED BY FEUD

In 2014, a family feud almost destroyed Market Basket.

The Massachusetts-based grocery chain was long owned by the Demoulas family, who made up the company’s board of directors. That summer, the board fired CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who was beloved by many of the company’s 26,000 employees. A Demoulas cousin who controlled the board at the time led the push to remove “Artie T.” after a decades-long dispute over ownership rights and a difference of opinion about the company’s rapid expansion.

The board’s decision enraged Market Basket workers at all levels, from grocery baggers to district managers. They said they supported Demoulas for his personal touch, his vow to keep the chain family-owned and his commitment to support a company fund that pays annual bonuses to employees. They worried that the new leadership would cut pay and benefits, despite assurances that it remained committed to customers and workers.

Employees protested by refusing to make deliveries, leaving many stores without produce or fresh meat for weeks. They posted signs and placed petitions inside Market Basket stores asking for Demoulas to be reinstated. Customers vowed to shop elsewhere until the ousted CEO returned.

The dispute was finally resolved in December 2014 when Demoulas announced he had completed a buyout of the 50.5 percent of the company he hadn’t previously owned. He returned to his old job and immediately issued a total of $49 million in bonuses to employees. The boycott ended.

Still, industry experts said that deal likely saddled Market Basket with a significant financial burden. A hoped-for second store in Maine did not materialize – until now.

“We’re doing exceptionally well,” Schmidt said. “We have to give the credit to the customers for their loyalty to our company. We’re in a very good position for the future.”

Westbrook has two other large supermarkets – a Hannaford and a Shaw’s.

The planned Market Basket will be 80,000 square feet. The store in Biddeford, which Market Basket officials have said is the largest supermarket in Maine, is in a 107,000-square-foot former Lowe’s building.

Schmidt said he anticipates the new store will need 375 to 400 new employees.

“The Westbrook store will be very much like our Biddeford store, with the Market’s Kitchen to the café to the large selection of quality produce,” Schmidt said.

DEVELOPMENT SLOWLY TAKES SHAPE

Redevelopment of the former Pike Industries quarry has been years in the making.

The 80-acre site is near the intersection of Main Street and Larrabee Road, between two Maine Turnpike exits and close to the Portland-Westbrook border. Across Main Street is another shopping center anchored by Kohl’s.

Gove first submitted plans for the retail center in 2015. Before the Walmart store was announced, residents speculated that the large warehouse buildings would be Market Basket, Costco or Hobby Lobby. Gove planned to turn the quarry into a lake that would be stocked with fish, open for ice skating in the winter and surrounded by a walking trail that would link to trail systems in Portland and its western suburbs.

Melchionda, who lives in Boston and Scarborough, said Gove approached him last year about taking over the development. Waterstone’s portfolio in Maine also includes the Kittery Outlets and the Scarborough Gallery.

“I’ve been looking to do a project in Portland for many, many years,” Melchionda said. “I jumped at the opportunity.”

Waterstone has agreed to complete about $10 million in offsite traffic improvements as part of the project, including improvements to the turnpike exits and nearby intersections. Melchionda said he intends to develop the quarry into a water feature in keeping with Gove’s plans. He said he might return to the Westbrook Planning Board to approve changes to the original plan, such as a new configuration for interior traffic flow or a residential component to the project.

“We have nothing but positive things to say about this development team and their responsiveness to comments they’ve been provided,” said Westbrook City Planner Jennie Franceschi.

NOT A TRADITIONAL RETAIL STRIP

In addition to national brands, Melchionda said, he also would like to see one of the high-end restaurants in Portland open a second location in the plaza, and he suggested other local businesses and brew pubs would be a good fit for the development.

“It’s not going to be a traditional strip retail center where people run in, buy a bag of dog food and go home,” he said.

Melchionda expects Market Basket to be a draw for potential tenants and shoppers. His relatives are devotees of Market Basket in Massachusetts.

“We drive 18 to 20 minutes and we pass six grocery stores so that we can shop at Market Basket,” he said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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