While it is now being referred to as “Saco Island East, the sign with “The Waters” project title still stands at the entrance of the 5.8-acre lot overlooking the Saco River. A plan for the project remains unknown as potential new developer, Ted Moore of Massachusetts, has an option to buy the property from owner Bernie Saulnier. (Abigail Worthing photo)

SACO – After a summer of introducing The Waters project to Saco, developer Bernie Saulnier may hand off the project to a new developer.

Saulnier spent months presenting plans for the $40 million project on the eastern side of Saco Island on Main Street. It was proposed to include 92 condominiums, a retail space, hotel, restaurant and two marinas. The project has presented to both the Saco Planning Board and Saco River Corridor Commission, and both will need to approve the project for it to move forward.
Saulnier also owns two building on the west side of Saco Island, both with plans for renovation: Building 2, purchased for $2.6 million in May at 110 Main St., home to Saco Island Deli, the Social Security office and other commercial businesses, and Unit 91, the abutting building Saulnier purchased from Saco in August for $400,000.
When fall came, however, Saulnier realized he had too much on his plate.
“I never planned to be the one to develop it, I just saw an opportunity,” Saulnier said. “When I heard that Ted was looking to develop, I decided to see if he was interested in taking on Unit 91.”
Ted Moore of Marblehead, Massachusetts – the project’s new developer – began investing in southern Maine real estate when his son moved to Portland eight years ago.
“The mill was an attractive project,” Moore said during a Dec. 20 phone interview. “I’ve done a lot of historic renovations before and I saw potential with this project. I looked at the buildings and I saw what Bernie saw.”
Unit 91 has oft been a point of conversation over the last year, having been acquired by the city of Saco in January 2016 through tax lien foreclosure. The 58,228 square-foot building is home to condominiums overseen by Island Terrace Owners Association and consists of 41 parking spaces on the lower level and 29,115 square feet of mixed-use space on the ground floor. The August sale to Saulnier Development included only the spaces and ground floor space, which are vacant.
Moore sees opportunity in the connection between Building 110, home of Saco Island Deli, and the Unit 91 condos. While he says the two buildings will remain “legally separate,” he plans to purchase majority ownership of both, with Saulnier taking primary charge of the construction portion of renovations. According to Saulnier, the sale for the majority ownership of the two buildings will be finalized in the next week for a currently undecided price.
The planning board voted Dec. 18 unanimously in favor of allowing Moore to revise the site plan for Unit 91, shifting from a multi-use renovation with the possibility of a restaurant or commercial space, to strictly residential. The renovation is estimated by Moore to range between $3 and 4 million, and include the addition of 31 residential apartments. This will also tie in with renovations of Building 2 at 110 Main Street, where improvements to Saco Island Deli will increase the size of the restaurant.
As for The Waters, there has been a change of vision accompanying the change of leadership.
Moore hasn’t purchase the property officially, but has an option on the parcel that is contingent with approvals needed for development.
The Saulnier plan, presented to the planning board during an Aug. 25 site walk of the 5.8 acre parcel, featured two condominium buildings, retail space, a boutique hotel developed by Jim Brady of the Press Hotel in Portland, and the second location of Nonesuch River Brewing, a project estimated to generate $800,000 in annual property tax revenue for the city of Saco. Saulnier purchased the Saco Island East property in 2017 for $1.5 million.
Moore’s new plan for the property, which he refers to as Saco Island East, is simpler and leaves the fate of the brewery undecided.
Moore appeared before city council Monday, Dec. 17 during an executive session to discuss using funds from the Saco Island Tax Increment Finance District to aid with costs of improving that particular area of Saco.
TIF funds allow municipalities to shelter increases in valuation (for up to 30 years) and avoid losses due to state and country fiscal formulas. In practice, the TIF district is approved by the state to shift increases in tax revenue into the TIF fund, with the original taxes going into the general fund, and the increases entering into the TIF fund. Funds in a TIF are then used to make improvements to a municipality, usually in its downtown.
The Saco Island East project will need brownfields remediation due to soil contaminations from previous factory presence, as well as a new seawall mandated by the Army Corps of Engineers as the property faces a federal waterway.
Moore also cited improvements needed to the RiverWalk that needs to be insured and repaired. Moore estimates $5 million will need to be spent for improvements to the area, both for Unit 91 and the parcel across the street, prior to building Saco Island East. Allowing the project access to TIF funds would aid in the funding of those projects.
Chinburg Properties has a credit enhancement agreement through the TIF, with 80 percent returning to the company in years one through eight and 60 percent in years nine through 30, and is capped at $5 million in reimbursements. Chinburg has done significant redevelopment on the western side of Saco Island, redeveloping Building 4 into apartments with a currently-vacant restaurant space.
“I don’t believe anyone will come forward to work on this area without some help from the city,” Moore said.
According to Mayor Marston Lovell, as the TIF discussion was presented during an executive session, at the applicant’s request, and was not for public record. While he confirmed that Unit 91 falls within the Saco Island TIF, he was unaware of the plans for the future of the project on Saco Island East. Lovell said until the project is brought to the council during a workshop, the topic is not open for public discussion.
Saulnier said on Dec. 28 that the city would be willing to offer a TIF agreement contingent on the property remaining mixed use with either a hotel or restaurant on the property.
The two proposed marinas will operate as boat slips, one side where people can rent what’s referred to as “dockominiums,” and the other for public use, remain in the plan as the project moves forward. The Army Corps of Engineers released a 30-day notice on Dec. 11 requesting written comments from the public on the project’s application to begin work in the Saco River, which is a federally navigable waterway.
“This is a completely normal part of the process,” said Tim Forrester, owner and founder of Atlantic Environmental LLC, the firm consulting on construction of the marinas.
According to Saulnier, Brady and his team are working on the feasibility of a hotel succeeding in the proposed location, but both he and Moore confirmed that Brady remains involved with the project through the changing of hands.
“We have a meeting with Jim next month to discuss the hotel. We’re thinking maybe mixed-use, with condominiums at the top to get the most out of what little space we have over there,” Moore said.
One piece that remains uncertain through the shift in vision is the second location of Nonesuch River Brewing, housed on Gorham Road in Scarborough. The owners of Nonesuch River Brewing made public their involvement with Saulnier in early August, taking part in a boat cruise from Camp Ellis to Saco Island East with members of municipal government and other local leaders. The restaurant’s proposed name was to be NRB at the Waters, and would offer a more fine-dining approach to the original concept in Scarborough.
“There’s really just not a lot of space on the island, and a business like that needs a lot of parking that we just don’t have space for,” Moore said. “Restaurants have been hesitant to come to that area because there is already such a successful presence in Run of the Mill, and now we’ll be doubling the size of the Saco Island Deli. There just isn’t a need for that right now.”
Reports conflicted between Moore and Saulnier about the future of Nonesuch River Brewing, with Saulnier affirming on Dec. 18 that the restaurant would move forward through the transition. However, on Dec. 20, Moore said Saulnier had already spoken with the restaurant owners to tell them the second location would not move forward as planned.
Tim Boardman, one of three owners of Nonesuch River Brewing, told a different story.
“This is the first I’m hearing of it,” said Boardman when approached for comment.
Boardman said it was disappointing but not surprising, as he says messages to Saulnier had gone unanswered for months.
“I feel like (Saulnier) just used us for a publicity stunt,” he said during a Dec. 20 interview.
In a Dec. 28 interview, however, Saulnier said that Moore’s report that there would be no restaurant in the project is not final and that he has since spoken to Boardman to confirm that the possibility of Nonesuch River Brewing opening a location on Saco Island East is still on the table.
“We’re starting the process of doing market studies for all parts of the project, so there are going to be a lot of moving pieces going forward. Some things will work out, some won’t,” Saulnier said. “We want to keep all of our options open throughout this process to ensure the project is as successful as possible. Everything is changing day to day.”
 
Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected]

 

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