A Saco Island developer has cleared an area on the eastern end of the island in preparation for commercial development that could include an office building and extension of the Saco RiverWalk.

Sam Zaitlin, director of development for property owner Saco Island Development-East, said the company expects to finish gathering information to give to prospective office tenants by the end of the month.

The timing of the project would depend on how quickly the developer can sign up tenants, Zaitlin said, but he estimates that construction would be underway within a year.

“We’re committed to doing it,” he said of the project.

Zaitlin said the plan calls for a four-story, 50,000-square-foot office building that would overlook the Saco River. The island is located in the middle of the river between Saco and Biddeford, and its eastern side faces downstream. The western side of the island was developed years ago with a mix of residential, retail and commercial buildings.

He also is interested in extending the RiverWalk pedestrian pathway to include the island’s eastern edge, Zaitlin said, but the specifics of that plan are less certain. An extension of the RiverWalk “certainly makes a lot of sense,” he said.


Zaitlin said the company has spoken to municipal and chamber of commerce officials about the project but has not yet submitted a specific plan for city approval.

“This is all conceptual,” he said.

Outgoing Saco Mayor Don Pilon said several uses have been suggested for the eastern portion of Saco Island over the years, including restaurants and an outdoor entertainment venue.

Pilon said he has received only vague information about the latest proposed development, but he questioned whether an office building would be the best fit for such a scenic location overlooking the river.

“It’s such a prime piece of real estate – I’d hate to see it underutilized,” he said.

But Craig Pendleton, executive director of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce, said he is excited about the office project and believes it is an appropriate use of the land.


“Everybody wants everything, and it really boils down to what’s the best practical use and who can afford to be there,” Pendleton said, adding that a medical office in particular would be a good fit.

Pendleton said he was encouraged by the prospect of opening up the island’s eastern edge to the public, which would give residents and tourists another reason to visit the area.

“It’s just another thing to draw people to downtown,” he said.

Developers have committed more than $100 million to projects in Saco and Biddeford recently, Pendleton said, including the $50 million Lincoln Mill project to convert the former Biddeford textile mill into a hotel and apartment complex, and another Saco Island project involving $18 million in renovations to convert an empty mill building into nearly 250,000 square feet of housing and retail space.

“It’s a really exciting time out here,” he said.


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