HEALTH CARE

Mercy seeks state’s approval for expansion on Fore River

Portland’s Mercy Hospital is moving forward with plans to build and relocate to a new facility on Fore River Parkway despite suffering financial losses in recent years. Mercy President Charlie Therrien said Wednesday that the hospital submitted a letter of intent last week to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to obtain a Certificate of Need for its Fore River hospital project. The current plan calls for a 108,000-square-foot facility in addition to the existing 150,000 square feet of hospital space, not including medical offices, built on the Fore River site in 2008. Following two consecutive years of eight-figure losses, Therrien said Mercy has rebounded by focusing on efficiency and quality of patient care. The hospital reduced its net operating loss for the 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, to $3.9 million from a loss of $17.4 million the previous year. Therrien said construction on the Fore River hospital, which has an estimated cost of $75 million, would not begin until Mercy experiences at least one full year of solvency following its recent losses. Read the story.

Maine Med expansion could lead to spring road closures

Maine Medical Center is proposing to close about a block of Congress Street for eight weeks next spring as contractors work on adding three floors to the visitor parking garage. The plan is part of Maine Med’s gargantuan $512 million expansion, which is expected to take about five years to complete and will include a new entranceway, surgery center, tower additions and a new employee parking garage. The first steps of the building and renovation project, tentatively scheduled to start in May, would be the construction at the visitor parking garage and adding two stories to the East Tower. City officials said any plan to close part of Congress Street will be heavily scrutinized because of the potential to disrupt traffic on a major road that traverses the length of the peninsula, and more. Read the story.

RETAIL

Jeweler had a white Christmas, but fell short of Rolex refund

Monday’s snowstorm brought a white Christmas to most of New England, but it wasn’t enough to trigger an $800,000 giveaway to customers of Springer’s Jewelers. In a news release Wednesday, the company said its Portsmouth, New Hampshire, location received 4.3 inches of snow on Christmas Day, 1.7 inches less than required to activate the jeweler’s Let It Snow deal. Under the annual promotion’s rules, if the Portsmouth store area receives 6 inches or more on Dec. 25, the company will refund the price of any qualifying purchase made at its three locations in the two weeks after Thanksgiving. More than 400 customers shopped at the jewelry stores during the Nov. 24 to Dec. 9 promotional period and bought almost $1 million worth of products. The company carries insurance to cover the cost of the refunds, if they are ever made. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Restaurants, hotel, car dealer open around Maine Mall area

New restaurants and a hotel have opened their doors in South Portland’s west end, a trend likely to continue, according to city officials. Joshua Reny, assistant city manager and economic development director, said generally there has been substantial investment in the city in recent years, concentrated in the Maine Mall area, and broadening the tax base. The assessed value of the entire city totals $3.4 billion, and the mall-area properties contribute $9.1 million in taxes to the city, according to assessing officials. Tru by Hilton, a 98-room mid-scale brand hotel, opened Dec. 21 at 369 Maine Mall Road. A neighbor to Tru by Hilton is a CarMax, at 415 Maine Mall Road. The dealership will include a 6,700-square-foot building, parking for 550 used vehicles, and parking for 93 other vehicles. New restaurants include Tuscan Table and Big Fin Poke. Read the story.

Panel recommends housing at former public works complex

The former public works complex on O’Neil Street in South Portland should be redeveloped into housing that fits into the surrounding residential neighborhood, is affordable to people with median incomes, and is designed to be attractive and energy efficient. Those are some of the draft recommendations issued by a 13-member reuse planning committee that spent the last 10 months studying redevelopment options for the sprawling industrial site off Cottage Road. The recommendations got a warm reception at a public forum this month and are expected to be polished up and presented to the City Council on Jan. 8. The council also will get its first look that night at a request for proposals from developers that also will be advertised in January. Read the story.

MARIJUANA

North Yarmouth board blocks applications for pot businesses

North Yarmouth’s Select Board on Dec. 19 approved a policy that blocks applications for retail marijuana businesses while the state grapples with establishing oversight regulations. Instead of recommending a moratorium, like nearby towns Falmouth and Yarmouth enacted, town officials endorsed policy language that has been adopted by other Maine communities. The policy is to be used until state regulations are determined. At that point the town can decide whether to regulate or ban retail marijuana establishments. Read the story.

Lawmakers optimistic they will reach compromise on pot bill

Key lawmakers were scheduled to meet with Gov. Paul LePage on Friday to try to reach agreement on how to change an adult-use marijuana bill so it would gain his support. Members of a special committee that drafted the bill after state voters approved legalization in 2016 said they were optimistic that they could reach a compromise on issues that led LePage to veto the measure in November. The new legalization bill will be debated when the legislative session begins next week, and a public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5. The bill would set up a regulatory framework for the sale, production and taxation of marijuana for adult recreational use. Read the story.

Visitors tour the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay in 2013. The nonprofit’s expansion plan is headed to court. File photo by Gordon Chibroski

LEGAL

Boothbay sued after rescinding gardens expansion permit

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has sued the town of Boothbay, alleging the town’s Board of Appeals violated the nonprofit organization’s constitutional right to due process when it voted in November to overturn the Planning Board’s approval of a $30 million expansion. In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Dec. 20, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens said the appeals board process was “tainted” in part because it allowed two members to vote after they held private meetings with abutters opposed to the expansion project. The suit identifies those board members as Scott Adams and Stephen Malcom. The board of appeals, with Adams and Malcom in the majority, voted 3-2 in November to rescind a building permit approved by the Planning Board. Richard Perkins, the board’s chairman, voted with Adams and Malcolm. The project is already underway. Read the story.

HOSPITALITY

South Portland council delays short-term rental decision

The South Portland City Council will hold a fourth workshop on hotly contested short-term rentals next month, delaying plans to bring an ordinance regulating Airbnb-style operations to a council vote in January. It’s unclear what impact the delay might have on the council’s previously stated unanimous opposition to short-term rentals of entire single-family houses that aren’t occupied by their owners. Five of seven councilors agreed Wednesday that the rental issue warrants further discussion, after the council two weeks ago asked city staff members to draft proposed ordinance changes for a first reading and vote in January. Mayor Linda Cohen said a majority of councilors indicated during Wednesday’s workshop planning session that they want to take more time with the issue and expect to see proposed ordinance language at a Jan. 24 workshop. Read the story.