A sports complex and community center are under consideration in Scarborough at The Downs. Rendering by Aceto Landscape Architects

SCARBOROUGH — It would cost the town $2.3 million per year to lease the community center that the developers of The Downs plan to build on the 500-acre harness-racing property.

The 72,800-square foot facility would be built to town specifications, and would include a competition pool, recreation pool, two gymnasiums, two running tracks, a multipurpose community room, fitness space and childcare space.

The developers of The Downs, a $621 million mixed-use project underway at Scarborough Downs, delivered the cost estimate Monday night to the advisory committee that’s analyzing the town’s community center options.

“This is a very good first pass,” said Kevin Freeman, advisory committee member. “It’s pretty darn close to what we put together. It lays out pretty efficiently.”

The advisory committee is gathering a wide variety of comparative data to help the Town Council determine whether to lease the facility proposed at The Downs or build a community center elsewhere that would be owned by the town, said Matthew Tonello, committee chairman.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the committee is on track to send its final report to the Town Council by mid-January, and the council is expected to make a decision on the build-to-lease proposal by the end of February.


The community center proposed by The Downs developers would be part of a privately owned sports complex including an indoor ice rink and indoor turf field, which would be operated separately.

The town-operated portion of the complex would be funded through a combination of user, membership and rental fees and property taxes that has yet to be determined, Hall said.

Under the terms of a proposed 30-year lease, the town would pay an estimated annual rate of $32.27 per square foot to rent the community center space at The Downs. That compares to $45 per square foot for the 130,000-square-foot Boston Sports Institute in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and $38 per square foot for a proposed community center in Windham, according to the developers.

The town has mulled the idea of building a community center since 1978. The Downs developers, made up of the Risbara and Michaud families of Scarborough, want to build a sports complex in the village center they have proposed near the racetrack. They brought in the Edge Sports Group of Bedford, Massachusetts, the firm that built, owns and operates the Wellesley sports center, to design and likely run the facility at The Downs.

“We think this is something that can work,” Rocco Risbara told the advisory committee Monday night. “We’re willing to work with the town.”

The Town Council appointed a 13-member advisory committee in September to assess local demand for a community center and design a facility to meet that demand.


Of 1,689 town residents who responded to an online survey in October, 1,285 (76 percent) said they supported construction of a community center. The top five amenities that residents said they would like to see in a community center were a swimming facility, a multipurpose gymnasium, an indoor walking track, a fitness room with equipment and a child care room.

Among the 404 residents (24 percent) who said they didn’t support construction of a community center, many worried about out-of-control spending, higher property taxes and a population that seems to be growing too fast. Some said the town has other more pressing concerns, such as the much-needed renovation and expansion of its elementary schools. Others said letting an out-of-state company build a community center and then leasing it from the developers is a “horrible idea.”

Last year, the council approved a credit enhancement agreement that will reimburse as much as $81 million in property taxes to The Downs developers over three decades. In return, they must meet certain goals in building a mix of commercial, light-industrial, recreational and residential development that’s well underway, including 48 condominiums, 48 apartments and 30 single-family homes.

The agreement also requires the developers to give the town at least five years to build a community center at The Downs, where several possible sites have been identified.

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