Editor’s note: For this New Year’s edition, reporters and editors from Current Publishing’s six newspapers write about the projects occurring in communities across southern Maine that could affect the lives of everyone in the region in 2008.

A moviegoer’s paradise

Moviegoers in southern Maine have plenty to look forward to in 2008, with new theaters opening in Bridgton and South Portland and a new IMAX theater coming to Saco.

By November, the 12-plex Cinemagic in Saco will be revamped to include three more theaters, including Maine’s first IMAX.

IMAX, based in New York City and Toronto, Canada, provides entertainment technology with an emphasis on film and digital imaging technologies, including 3D, post-production and digital projection. There are more than 300 IMAX theaters worldwide. The closest one to southern Maine is in Hooksett, N.H.

According to Bob Collins, director of marketing for Zyacorp, which owns Cinemagic Stadium Theaters, the IMAX in Saco will seat 450 people. He said the city was chosen because of its central location in the southern part of the state.

Cinemagic will also be reopening a movie complex at Clarks Pond in South Portland, which closed in last May after Regal Entertainment, which operated the theaters, failed to reach an agreement with the property owner, Joseph Soley. The plans for the newly revamped theaters include a cafe, stadium seating and Dolby Digital sound.

Regal Entertainment has plans to open a new theater complex nearby as a part of a planned $20 million expansion of the Maine Mall. That 68,000-square-foot complex will have 14 screens.

Though the entire project will take five years to complete, according to General Growth Properties, the mall owner, the theater is expected to open first in 2008 or early 2009.

With a projected opening date of Jan. 25, The Magic Lantern Theater in Bridgton will be bringing something new to the region by recreating the theater-going of the past.

Built on the site of a theater razed in 2006, The Magic Lantern will provide four, uniquely themed movie viewing areas: two 90-seat theaters, a 170-seat theater and a pub and restaurant. The theaters will have art deco, Victorian and nautical themes, while the restaurant decor will be reminiscent of the King Arthur period.

Though the decorations will invoke the past, The Magic Lantern will not be lacking in modern comforts, including rocking chairs in the balconies, retractable armrests with cup holders on theater seats and wide aisles for the audiences.

Leslie Bridgers, The Current

Ride a bus to the Lakes Region

Commuters in the Lakes Region might be able to save some gas money and cut down on auto emissions if towns get behind a new regional bus service in 2008.

The commuter bus route would start in Bridgton and head south to Windham, picking up passengers along the way, according to the Greater Portland Council of Government, the agency overseeing the project.

From Windham, the bus would either continue on toward Portland along Route 302 or veer onto Route 115 headed toward Gray. From Gray, the bus would travel the turnpike ending in Portland. There would be several round trips each day, with passengers parking their vehicles in proposed commuter lots.

The bus proposal would be a westward expansion of the current Metro transportation system, which already serves Greater Portland. The annual $172,000 cost of the system would be paid for with a combination of federal grants, state grants, rider fares and local tax dollars from towns along the way.

The effort to bring a bus line to the region is one that the Greater Portland Council of Governments has been planning since 2001, when it put out a survey to gauge interest in public transportation among Lakes Region residents. Now, with the ever-increasing price of fuel, the council of governments is pitching the bus line to town councils and boards of selectmen. And towns like New Gloucester, Raymond and Gray have responded with tentative enthusiasm to the proposal.

While most agree that public transportation seems like a smart idea in this day and age, some town officials have wondered if there will be enough interest to justify the $172,000 annual cost. But David Willhauer, Greater Portland Council of Governments planning director, said the idea has received “broad support” from towns who have listened to the presentation.

The goal, says Willhauer, is for towns to vote on the proposed bus line in time for the 2008 fiscal year starting in July.

-Emily Devlin, Lakes Region Weekly

New development for Saco Island

A new brew pub and restaurant is expected to open in February as part of a large redevelopment project taking place on Saco Island. The former mill building on the island that is home to the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce, University College and the Saco Island Deli is expected to undergo significant renovations this year.

Eventually, Island Point, the company behind the redevelopment project, plans to build 77 condominiums, including 30 new, townhouse-style units with accompanying boat slips on the Saco River, according to Bob Martin, the chief operating officer of Island Point.

The $100 million project is considered to be key to the future of commercial and residential development in the Biddeford-Saco area.

The attraction of the proposed condominiums, according to Martin, is their spaciousness, their downtown location, easy access to the river and the ocean and easy access to a planned new train station.

Even without marketing the housing units yet, Martin said, he has had serious inquiries from a number of people who would like to live on the island once the project is complete.

In addition to the 30 units on the east side of the island, 42 condos will be built on the west side of the island in a former mill building to be called Island Falls. Martin said he expects the project to be completed in 2010.

According to Peter Morelli, Saco’s development director, the city is looking forward to welcoming more residents into downtown, who will, it is hoped, not only patronize local businesses, but also work in the area, as well.

There are already 90 condos on the island built by a previous developer. Morelli said those residents have become active in city affairs, volunteering their time on various boards and commissions.

“With the new units we are expecting another group of great residents who will make their own contributions to the city,” he said.

-Kate Irish Collins, Sun Chronicle

Big boxes coming to Sanford

The opening of a new Lowe’s and Wal-Mart Supercenter in south Sanford later this year is expected to create more than 650 jobs and attract consumers from as far away as Kennebunk, Wells and North Berwick.

While the project has been tied up in planning and development for almost four years, Les Stevens, the economic affairs director for the town of Sanford, said he expects the new $20 million, 400,000 square foot retail center to be open for business by next Christmas.

“The immediate effect is that this is going to create 650 jobs,” Stevens said.

That’s good news for the local economy. According to Gerard Dennison, director of regional workforce analysis for the Maine Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in Sanford was 5.9 percent in November, more than a point above the state average of 4.8 percent.

“I think it’s going to be a great asset to the area. We’re seeing a lot of people looking for full-time, year round employment as opposed to seasonal work,” said Richard Fifield, director of the career centers in Springvale and Saco. “There are people looking to get into manufacturing, and, if we can’t get manufacturing, we’ll certainly take retail.”

Seasonal construction workers, who are often laid off during the winter months, might also be considered as appropriate and knowledgeable employees at Lowe’s home improvement center, Fifield added.

Because the stores aren’t expected to open for almost another year, local business owners expect little change in consumer habits in 2008.

With Hannaford on one end of town, Shaw’s on the other and local mom-and-pop markets like Roger’s Supa Dolla, Jerry’s and Sleeper’s in between, consumers already have a wide range of choices. The new Wal-Mart Supercenter, featuring a full line of grocery items, will substantially add to those choices.

When the new home improvement center opens, local family-owned businesses like Shaw’s Hardware, Springvale Hardware, Lavalley Lumber and Hancock Lumber may lose some sales from do-it-yourselfers looking to stretch their home improvement budgets, but may retain larger accounts like PATCO Construction, a regional home-builder based in Sanford.

Mark Patterson, who manages PATCO’s finances, said his company buys lumber from several local family-owned lumber companies instead of the big box stores in Biddeford because of the quality of the product – contractor grade versus retail grade. He said the only time they go to Lowe’s or Home Depot is for specialty items – a certain type of screw, for example – or specific lighting or plumbing fixtures requested by the client that local hardware stores would have to special order.

“The benefits of the big stores are their hours of operation and the number of things on the shelf,” Patterson said. “But you got to know what you’re doing. We tend to use the local stores more because the staff tends to be more knowledgeable and more helpful.”

-Andrea Rose, Observer

Cabela’s opening in Scarborough

Two new, super-sized retail stores are expected to open in Scarborough in 2008 – Maine’s first Cabela’s, a hunting and fishing store, and a long-delayed Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Cabela’s, along with a host of new restaurants, is expected to open in May. A linchpin behind the town’s development of the Haigis Parkway – a stretch of undeveloped land off Maine Turnpike exit 42 – the retail development is projected to attract 3 million visitors yearly from in and out of state.

Developer Gene Beaudoin of New England Expedition, the company behind the project, said 25 percent of Cabela’s business is expected to come from the immediate vicinity, but he thinks the new restaurants, a mix of local and national chains, will be the big draw for locals.

Joining Cabela’s will be rib joint Famous Dave’s, sandwich shop Henry VIII’s, pizza restaurant Portland Pie Company, Freaky Bean coffee shop and Haven’s Candies. A Cracker Barrel restaurant, which specializes in Southern comfort foods, is still negotiating with the town.

Another large retail development on Payne Road in Scarborough may also be completed in 2008. After construction was delayed for a year and a half due to excess moisture in the soil, Wal-Mart Supercenter will finally be completed.

The foundation has already been laid, and the 212,000-square-foot building will be constructed in the spring. Carroll Shepard, assistant code enforcement officer in Scarborough, said there is no projected opening date.

The store will be part of Scarborough Gallery, a development located between I-295 and Spring Street, which includes a newly opened Lowe’s store and national chain restaurant Texas Roadhouse, which specializes in steak.

-Leslie Bridgers, The Current

Gorham gets a bypass

By the end of 2008, drivers could finally be able to bypass the traffic gridlock that has plagued Gorham Village and the thousands of commuters that travel through it for years.

The $28 million bypass is designed to ease bumper-to-bumper rush hour woes in Gorham Village that now has up to 40,000 cars daily traveling through the intersection of routes 25 and 114. The 3.4-mile, two-lane bypass will follow a path on the southerly side of the village. It will intersect with Route 114 (South Street), Route 202 (Narragansett Street) and with Route 25 west of Gorham Village. The bypass will pass under a bridge on Flaggy Meadow Road.

Gorham resident Adam Ogden said the bypass would improve quality of life in Gorham Village. He said Christmas guests at his home on South Street and others around the region are asking about progress on it. “It’s great it’s moving forward,” Ogden said.

Danny Shaw, co-owner of Shaw Brothers Construction, said Thursday construction is going well and is a “little ahead” of schedule. He said June of 2009 is the estimated target for completion, but it could open as early as the fall of 2008.

Thousands of motorists await completion of the bypass, which got under way after six decades of studies. Bonnie Conley of Baldwin said she would use the bypass in her daily commute. She said an evening commute from Westbrook through Gorham during a recent storm took two hours. “It would be very helpful,” Conley said about the Gorham bypass.

Ogden, who served on a public advisory bypass committee that planned the bypass, said it would eliminate the heavy truck traffic in Gorham Village. But Ogden also favored a northerly bypass of Gorham Village to further reduce congestion. However, the northerly bypass hasn’t yet received federal and state money for construction.

“Gorham has a reputation of a place you don’t want to travel through,” Ogden said.

Cinemagic will be reopening a movie complex this year at Clarks Pond in South Portland, after it closed in May. The newly renovated theaters will include a cafe, stadium seating and Dolby Digital sound.Covered in snow and tarps this week, Maine’s first Cabela’s, and hunting and fishing store, is expected to open in Scarborough in May.A small construction crew is continuing work on the Gorham bypass through the winter. Ahead of schedule, the bypass could provide relief to thousands of commuters as early as next fall.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.