The site for new development in Berwick is undergoing environmental clean-up. Courtesy photo/Eric Blackmore

SACO — Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, based in Saco and “which runs the most successful EPA Brownfields Remediation Program in New England,” announced that it is issuing a loan for continued environmental cleanup of the former Prime Tanning property (re-named “The Edge at Berwick”) now owned by Great Falls Construction of Gorham, according to a SMPDC press release.

SMPDC Economic and Community Development Director Chuck Morgan said, “SMPDC is committed to seeing the dream for Berwick’s Prime Tanning site fully realized. We are thrilled to continue our involvement and investment in this project. Great Falls Construction has worked closely with SMPDC and the Town of Berwick to move the vision forward from an environmentally hazardous former leather manufacturing site to a productive and visually appealing village center.”

The timeline for this project to transform the former industrial center of Berwick began in 2019 when Great Falls Construction purchased the property. The developers held numerous community meetings over the past year and recently unveiled the draft site plan. Construction is slated to begin this spring. Jon Smith, president of Great Falls Construction, said, “We have three tasks — take down older buildings, renovate existing buildings, and construct new buildings. The pandemic has pushed our completion date back and has increased costs but our hope is to have the project finished in 3-5 years with some space occupied within a year.”

The draft plan presented at a community meeting last fall includes a focus on connecting a “new Main Street” for easy access to Town Hall and Memorial Field for recreation; pocket parks; family friendly entertainment and restaurants; first floor commercial units including incubator space; upper floor residential apartments; and a daycare center.

Environmental issues have been cleaned up significantly, Smith said.

Berwick Town Manager Steve Eldredge praised the project, “We are very excited about this project and the progress being made. Great Falls Construction has been excellent to work with. They have been very thoughtful and have embraced the town’s vision to make it work with theirs. Berwick’s downtown will be an amazing change and will bring benefits to the community and the region.”

The former Prime Tanning site consists of 10 acres in the center of Berwick. It housed various manufacturing operations dating from 1877. In 2008, Prime Tanning closed the leather making mill and filed for bankruptcy. In 2014, Envision Berwick, the group assigned by the Board of Selectmen to develop and implement the town’s comprehensive plan, crafted Envisioning Downtown Berwick, calling for a community-centered walkable downtown. In 2016, Berwick worked with SMPDC to clean up the site as part of the EPA’s Brownfields environmental clean up program. Great Falls Construction purchased the site in 2019, and began working on “The Edge at Berwick,” a neighborhood-and community-focused development which seeks to transform the former industrial center of Berwick into an inviting village center that fosters strong, sustainable and suitable downtown growth for years to come.

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