Michael Scarks of Saco, a prominent real estate developer who helped revitalize many historic properties in Portland, such as the former Maine National Bank building on Congress Street and the old Merrill Transportation building on Forest Avenue, died unexpectedly Thursday. He was 61.

He was remembered this week both as a successful businessman and as a devoted family man and friend who had a passion for climbing, flying and other forms of adventure.

Mr. Scarks was responsible for building four Budget Traveler Motels throughout the state. Some of them included restaurants and conference facilities. He sold the hotel chain around 1985.

Soon thereafter, Mr. Scarks teamed up with business partner Louis Wood to develop properties in the Portland area. The projects included the W.L. Blake Building on Franklin Street, the Nissen bakery building on Washington Avenue and the 500 Washington Ave. block adjacent to Tukey’s Bridge. There were also residential housing developments, retail developments, two data centers, warehouses and wedding facilities.

Wood, Mr. Scarks’ business partner and friend for 25 years, said he was a man of integrity who took care of him and his family.

“I look back on our 25 years. We never had an argument. Never once did we argue about anything,” Wood recalled. “What an individual! We had different opinions, no question about it, but he respected my opinion and I respected his. It’s been tremendous to have him as a partner.”

Most recently, Mr. Scarks bought the 24-acre House Island in Casco Bay in May 2014. He had plans to build a few homes while preserving the fort. In October, he sold the northern part of the island to a couple who plan to restore three buildings that date back to 1907. In January, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to grant historic status to the island.

Mr. Scarks and his wife, Julianne Scarks, had two children, Stefan Scarks of Portland and Kayley Scarks of Andover, Kansas. His son remembered him Tuesday as a father who inspired and encouraged them to follow their dreams. He recalled the climbs they made on Mount Washington and at Denali National Park in Alaska.

Stefan Scarks said that when he wanted to pursue his interest in football, his father never questioned or pushed him in one way or the other.


“He encouraged me to be curious, … to be bold and to make hard decisions,” his son said. “I look back on it. … He wanted me to find my own way.”

When the younger Scarks got an opportunity to move to California, his father encouraged him to go.

“He pushed me out the door,” his son said. “He saw an opportunity for me to have a new experience and grow. … When I got to California, he would fly out midweek for three to four days and stay in my room. I’d drive my motorcycle to work and he would drive my truck and head to the Sierra Mountains to climb. He would fly out and give up hours and hours of work just to spend a couple hours with me. He really encouraged (the belief) that time is precious and probably should be measured in quality, not quantity. He wanted it to be quality time.”

Mr. Scarks had a profound impact on those around him. With his business, he worked tirelessly to help renew the charm and character of buildings throughout Portland. He nourished relationships with contractors and tenants. He helped many by giving people an opportunity to thrive. Even when projects didn’t come together as he hoped, Mr. Scarks always tried to find the positive, his son said.

“He said, ‘You can only look back and see how much you have improved your life and those around you.’ It’s priceless in retrospect. He was always great at keeping that focus. What’s the end goal here? He had a focus and a drive that was really unshakable and inspiring.”

Mr. Scarks was active in his community. He served as director of Rivergreen Bank and founder of Haven House in Portland. He also volunteered as project manager for the rebuilding of Most Holy Trinity Church in Saco in 1992. In addition, he contributed his time and service to The Make a Wish Foundation and Angel Flight, providing transportation for children receiving chemotherapy treatments.


Mr. Scarks was an adventure seeker who had a passion for mountain climbing, snowmobiling, sailing, bird hunting and fishing. He was also an avid pilot, flying helicopters, aerobatic biplanes, jet and twin-engine planes while exploring the inlets of coastal Maine and the mountains of New Hampshire and traversing North America, his obituary said. His son said flying was his passion.

“Airplanes were really a defining thing for him. He flew as along as I can remember,” his son said. “He was always looking for the next adventure and the next project. He really took time to look around and appreciate what was going on. There was a drive in him that really defined his life. He really inspired everyone around him. He chose to do what he loved and it was constant enjoyment.”

Services for Mr. Scarks will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Hope Memorial Chapel, 480 Elm St. in Biddeford. A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the funeral home.

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