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March 22, 2013

Prospects dim for massive Westbrook shopping project

Plans to build the state's largest shopping center appear unlikely as the land heads to auction.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WESTBROOK — A proposal to build the state's largest shopping center in Westbrook drew skepticism from the moment it surfaced five years ago. Now, with the undeveloped site headed to auction, prospects for completion seem far more unlikely.

Developer Jason Snyder was not able to pay lender Kimco Capital Corp. $1.9 million owed in mortgage and interest payments by Wednesday, his deadline to prevent a public sale of the property purchased by his late father.

Snyder, who planned to build a $300 million retail and recreational complex there, said losing the land is "devastating." His family's home is next door.

Snyder said he had raised some financing to hold onto the land, but it just wasn't enough to prevent a sale. Still, he hasn't lost all hope.

"I am looking at all my options," he said Wednesday, although he wouldn't go into detail.

Lawrence Clough, an attorney for Kimco, said the auction will likely happen within a few months.

The 61-acre site at exit 47 of the Maine Turnpike was among several properties on the Westbrook-Portland line that the late Arthur Snyder bought a half-century ago. One of the early developers to see potential in Portland's Old Port, he also saw promise near the turnpike.

Another of the properties, between Stroudwater and Congress streets, was the site of a more recent proposal by Jason Snyder -- for a sports and entertainment arena to be built in conjunction with the conversion of the Cumberland County Civic Center into a convention center. The plan never moved forward.

Snyder first approached Westbrook officials at the start of the recession in 2008 with his plan for a 1.6-million-square-foot retail, recreational and office complex called Stroudwater Place.

He had joined forces with Arthur Emil, a New York City lawyer and developer who owned the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center.

They brought in a Boston design firm that had worked on Faneuil Hall, dropped names like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's as potential tenants and promised to bring 5,000 jobs to the city.

Over several months, city officials developed a contract zone for the property -- a process that generated a contentious public debate between people who wanted to move the project forward quickly and others who worried about what could be built on the land if restrictions weren't in place.

Some questioned the viability of the project, given the location and the economic climate. Then City Councilor Drew Gattine, who lives across Stroudwater Street from the property, cast the sole dissenting vote against the zone change.

"I hope that whoever ends up owning that property will work collaboratively with the city and the adjoining neighborhoods to make sure that any future use brings great benefit to the citizens of Westbrook," Gattine, now a state representative, wrote in an email Thursday.

Kenneth Lefebvre, a former Westbrook mayor who had publicly supported the project, said Thursday he doesn't believe it's dead yet.

"I certainly hope it can all be resolved," he said. "It all boils down to who shows up to the auction and what they bid."

Kimco has 90 days from Wednesday to publish a notice of sale, which it would have to do for three consecutive weeks before the auction, Clough said.

He would not say whether Kimco has any plans for the property.

"Right now, we're just getting through the mechanics of the legal process," he said.

Regardless of who owns it, the land will continue to be a prime site for development, said City Administrator Jerre Bryant.

"If indeed the property changes hands, it will be interesting to see what interest it attracts," he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

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