The Metro bus service will be paid $175,000 for agreeing to lease the streets and sidewalks in a new shopping center in Westbrook to the developer.

Metro has no obligations under a memorandum of understanding with Waterstone Properties Group, but the arrangement allows the developer to borrow millions in tax-free bonds.

Metro’s board of directors voted unanimously Wednesday to sign the agreement with Massachusetts-based Waterstone, the company behind a $33 million shopping center anchored by a Market Basket supermarket. The center is the first phase of a 66-acre multi-use complex planned by Waterstone at a former quarry bordered by Main Street and Larrabee Road.

“I’m very pleased with the $175,000,” board President John Thompson said after the vote. “I think we can do a lot of good work for our users with that.”

Under the agreement, Waterstone will pay Metro a one-time fee to hold an exclusive 60-year lease on the transportation infrastructure in the development, called Rock Row, and allow the agency to structure future public transit on the property. Metro has no responsibility for construction, maintenance or insurance and would be protected in the event of a bankruptcy by the developer.

With public involvement in the project, Waterstone can borrow $16.3 million in tax-exempt bonds through the Financial Authority of Maine to build the transportation network.

The one-time payment seems small considering the scale of the development, but it is a reasonable amount because Metro has no obligations under the agreement, General Manager Greg Jordan said Wednesday.

Metro had an $8.7 million operating budget in 2017. The agency operates buses in Portland, Westbrook, Gorham, Falmouth and a commuter shuttle service between Portland, Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick.

The Rock Row complex, with plans for housing, dining and entertainment, could be a hub for expanded public transit in Greater Portland. A busy Metro bus line runs next to the property, and transportation agencies are considering a high-speed commuter bus on nearby Interstate 95 and a passenger rail link to Portland.

The agreement “gives us a seat at the table” for those projects, Jordan said.

Waterstone did not respond to an interview request Wednesday, but last week, Josh Levy, a principal in Waterstone, said developers will spend millions of dollars to improve traffic intersections in Portland and Westbrook and a nearby highway interchange.

The Metro agreement “fits into a larger goal of Rock Row to reduce single-car visits and focus on bicycle, pedestrian and public transit,” Levy said. “Our goal is to leave the region better off than when it came in.”

The Metro board and Waterstone still need to agree to final lease terms before the agency gets the lump-sum payment.

Metro attorney Gary Vogel told the board Wednesday that Waterstone is moving cautiously, after the first phase of its development was challenged in court by a company with undisclosed ownership.

Waterstone plans to break out the road infrastructure as a separate subdivision within the development to shield it from another legal challenge and withstand scrutiny from bond regulators, Vogel told the board.

A final lease, and Metro’s payment, should be ready by March, he said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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