FREEPORT — The town’s biggest and best-known business considered leaving Freeport before deciding to pursue a tax agreement and expand its downtown corporate campus.

David Lockman, L.L. Bean’s director of Real Estate and Construction, said the company has opted to remain in Freeport – where it’s been since 1912 – after a lengthy discussion that included exploring alternative locations for L.L. Bean’s corporate headquarters.

“Ultimately, we decided we wanted to remain and keep committed to the town of Freeport,” Lockman said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “We actually looked at a list of places where we might go, and it was a fairly drawn-out process.”

A representative from L.L. Bean did not return an email requesting further comment on the company’s discussions about relocating outside of Freeport.

Lockman presented the Town Council with its first look at plans that would greatly expand, enhance and modernize the company’s corporate headquarters, adding a second floor to the main building that would bring the campus to a total of about 400,000 square feet.

The company has proposed creating a new tax increment financing district in Freeport that would help subsidize the cost of the project. There is no other information available about the tax agreement, but the Town Council will hold a workshop with L.L.Bean officials on Jan. 21 to further discuss the proposal. Tax increment financing is a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects.

The project’s estimated cost is $110 million, which includes about $80 million for construction. The rest of the cost is for furniture, fixtures and equipment. The three-phase project is scheduled to be completed in 2024; there is no estimated start date because the project still has to go through the Planning Board and Town Council review process.

According to Lockman, the company’s office space is almost 50 years old and was originally built to use as warehouses and factories, and not as a space conducive to an office environment. The campus’ major electrical and mechanical systems, plus some utilities, are beyond their useful life and are extremely costly to replace, he said.

As part of the process, Lockman said L.L. Bean officials had to consider questions that included how to best meet the company’s corporate office needs; reuse existing space to get all corporate employees under one roof in Freeport  – employees are now spread across four buildings in Freeport and a small space in greater Portland; create a corporate campus environment that can attract and retain the top talent the company wants to employ, and protect the brand of L.L. Bean of today.

“It’s not the same exact L.L. Bean that existed in 1912,” Lockman said. “That (square-footage) would fit our current workforce and give us additional room for growth should the business grow in the future.”

The company was founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean and started making just one product, the Maine Hunting Shoe. It now makes products ranging from down coats, tents and canoes to dog beds, snowshoes and wool socks. Last year, L.L. Bean reported annual net revenue of $1.6 billion for the fiscal year that ended on Feb. 28, 2019, an increase of 1% over 2017.

Keith McBride, head of the Freeport Economic Development Corporation, said there would be a seven-step review process, including input from the economic development corporation, before creating the new district. Under the L.L.Bean proposal, the town of Freeport would subsidize about $10 million of the cost of the project, but once completed, the estimated tax due on the property over the first 30 years would be about $35 million, according to Jeanne Sanders, L.L. Bean’s tax director.

Councilor Doug Reighley said his father used to work for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, but today, there isn’t one tire produced in that city, and the city isn’t thriving as it once was.

“By sharing a relationship between businesses and tax collectors, it helps to keep the community solid, growing and prosperous,” Reighley said.

Lockman said the company identified five community benefits as a result of the project, with the biggest being that L.L. Bean remains in Freeport. The project calls for a 900-seat event center that would be open for community use, and Lockman said the company would include stormwater treatment improvements, too. There is a proposal to connect a trail system from West Street to Pine Street, and Lockman said L.L. Bean envisions a multi-use trail that would accommodate bicycles and strollers. The fifth benefit is the construction of a new baseball field on Pownal Road that would, in essence, replace the Little League field that used to be on L.L. Bean’s campus.

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