A rendering of the proposed changes to Brunswick’s Tontine Mall. Courtesy of Commercial Properties

BRUNSWICK — Owner and developer Dan Catlin has big plans for Brunswick’s Tontine Mall: “five-star,” $2.75 million plans that he hopes will “put the Tontine on the map for the next 30 years.” 

The Tontine Mall, a local fixture since 1922,  is home to Eveningstar Cinema, Indrani’s, the Music Center, Elizabeth Nails and Spa, Edward Jones and Homes and Harbor, Wild Oats and Grampa’s Garden. The latter two businesses both have plans to relocate: Grampa’s Garden just across the street to a larger space, and Wild Oats to owner Becky Shepherd’s “dream building” at Brunswick Landing. 

Catlin, owner of the Tontine and CEO of Commercial Properties, Inc., has been at the mall’s helm for the past 23 years and feels it’s time the mall gets a facelift. 

The proposed vision for the Tontine includes a glass porch and extended three-season patio seating, a new interior layout, increased natural lighting with more windows, at least two new businesses and  — above the existing structure — two new floors with 16 market-rate apartment units. 

The overall concept will stay the same, with common area seating helping to maintain its “gathering place” feel, Catlin said. The Wild Oats/Grampa’s Garden space will be subdivided, likely for two tenants, one offering soups and sandwiches and the other with coffee and bakery components, he said. 

He is close to an agreement with a sandwich restaurant but is still looking for the other. 

“It’s very clear that (people) don’t want us to change a thing,” Catlin said after Wild Oats announced its plans to relocate at the end of 2020, so the new tenants will likely try to replicate some of the options offered by Wild Oats. However, Catlin said, no business will be able to “fill their shoes,” perhaps just “fill that void.” 

The spot is a “proven location” and would be a great fit for not only another bakery, but also something that could bring more nightlife downtown, an aspect that Catlin said has been lacking from the Tontine. “We’ve been approached by some breweries,” he said, and suggested that two tenants could share one of the spaces, or a business with multiple aspects could move in. 

“We want to create life in a place that shuts down at 5 p.m.,” he said. 

Mandy Reynolds, vice president of development at Commercial Properties, Inc., set up a last-minute block party in the parking lot during last year’s art walk with Moderation Brewing, Food Trucks, and a rock wall and it was a roaring success, she said. They hope to host more events like that. An early Valentine’s Day event for families is planned for Feb. 13. 

“We want to support the businesses that stay open later (than 5 p.m.)” she said. “Life outside will bring people inside.” 

“It’s already a great place to gather,” Catlin said, noting the patio in particular, but “we are going to make it better.”   

The construction, anticipated to begin in fall 2020 or early 2021, will be in two phases. The $500,000 renovations to the first-floor businesses will begin first, and the second phase, the construction of the roughly $2.25 million apartments, will follow. 

“Having those apartments is crucial,” Catlin said. The units will add two floors and an additional 16,000 square feet above the Tontine, using the “existing air space” and “existing infrastructure,” Reynolds said. 

With Maine’s low unemployment rate, many employers have a hard time attracting workers, and workers need a place to live. The apartments will not be “workforce housing” per se, as they will be set at market rate, but preference will be given to employees of the Tontine Mall. 

The four two-bedroom and 12 one-bedroom apartments would also be ideal for people just starting out, people downsizing or people without cars, according to Reynolds.

Parking at the Tontine remains an issue, though Catlin said there is an under-utilized 20-car parking lot behind the building. There will likely have to be assigned spots for tenants, and he may explore ways to add more parking, he said. 

Deb King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association said she was excited about the proposed changes to the space.

“We certainly wish Wild Oats the absolute best in their relocation,” she said, “but we’re excited about the plans and to see what’s going to be coming.”
The addition of new housing is especially exciting, she said, especially for those who may be looking to more downtown. 

Catlin and the Tontine Mall were honored as the Brunswick Downtown Association’s Business of the Year during the organization’s annual meeting on Thursday. 

“He has made so many investments locally,” King said. “We are very excited that he is as interested as he is, not only in the downtown but also the entire community.

With Bowdoin College, a downtown Hannaford, Maine State Music Theatre and Amtrak, Catlin said downtown “checks all the boxes,” and he hopes to make the Tontine Mall “this one of the best places: to go in the downtown.

 “This is first and foremost,” he said. “We want to get this right.” 

The proposed plan is expected to go before the Brunswick Village Review Board next week and the planning board shortly after.

This story has been edited to clarify that there are 16 apartment units going above the Tontine Mall. 

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