The Downs development is now beginning a new series of residential projects, similar to this development already completed. FILE

SCARBOROUGH — New residential projects at The Downs in Scarborough – including apartments, condominiums and a 23-lot subdivision – are underway, and ongoing development is still going strong despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Work has now begun on the subdivision off Route 1, the first of several projects in the works that include 60 apartments and two condo buildings with 24 and 28 units. The projected finish date for the subdivision is March 2021; the other projects are still undergoing the town’s approval process.

The new phase is part of the years-long development of the area collectively referred to as The Downs, a 479-acre parcel that includes the Scarborough Downs harness racing track. The developers, Peter and Michael Richaud, and William, Marc and Rocco “Roccy” Risbara III, bought the property in 2018 for $6.7 million, and Scarborough town officials included it in a large tax finance district geared toward developing the land as a downtown area, something Scarborough has never had.

“We haven’t really slowed down,” Rocco “Roccy” Risbara III, spokesman for the developers, told The Forecaster this week.

Risbara acknowledged the pandemic has had an impact on development as builders have had some difficulty securing supplies and items such as appliances, but called the delays “relatively minor.”

Some of the plan reviews and other parts of the approval process have also slowed, he said, but overall work has gone on uninterrupted. Construction crews, he noted, were deemed essential workers by Gov. Janet Mills even when the initial pandemic-related lockdowns began in March.

“Our ability to work safely has been proven,” he said.

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall also said he didn’t believe there have been any significant delays in the Downs development due to the coronavirus.

“I don’t see any indication of any change in the short term,” he said.

So far, the development has proceeded as planned, beginning in October 2018 with a series of residential projects including four 12-unit apartment buildings, 16 single-level duplexes, and four eight-unit garden-style condominium buildings, along with 30 single-family house lots and a 10,000 square-foot memory care facility, all located between Route 1 and the racetrack – all now completed, Risbara said.

Next, the developers created a 154-acre, 57-lot business park at 90 Payne Road, where Risbara said the focus will be primarily industrial, but will also allow commercial, general retail, manufacturing, research and technology development. Work began in the fall of 2019, and so far Risbara said two companies have moved in: Audio/video company AV Technik, occupying a 25,000-square-foot building, and study resource company Scorebuilders, which is occupying a 5,000-square-foot building. Other buildings, Risbara said, are in various stages of approval.

With the new series of residential projects starting to get approval, developers are already looking to the next stage of work, which will likely include a 200,000-square-foot office complex proposed by WEX, a Portland-based information technology and payment processing services company. Risbara and other supporters of The Downs project said they were particularly excited by the prospect.

“This is Maine, and you don’t build 200,000 square-foot buildings every day,” he said.

Dennis Meehan, president of the Scarborough Community Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has always supported The Downs. The WEX building, he said, will serve as a second headquarters for the company, and will likely provide work for hundreds of the company’s employees.

That’s important, Meehan said, because that will drive the development of peripheral businesses to support that workforce, such as hotels, dry cleaners, daycare services and restaurants.

“The WEX building is going to be the catalyst for the new downtown,” he said.

Risbara said it’s also possible that those employees will live in the residential areas as well, even further developing the downtown.

Right now, the project is still in early stages, and the approval process was slowed slightly due to the pandemic slowing municipal work in general. WEX did not respond to several requests for comment from The Forecaster, but the company has already secured $150,000 in tax credits per year for 15 years from the town, for an estimated total of $2.25 million, according to town documents.

Risbara said the town is likely to decide on the WEX building before the end of August. He agreed that the addition of WEX to The Downs project will be a huge driver for further development.

“It really starts the ball rolling,” he said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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