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July 16, 2019 at 7:57 am · · Comments Off on The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons

The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons

In multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Please join with us in celebrating the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons in Waterville.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:  As part of a multi-million dollar downtown revitalization effort spearheaded by Colby College and in partnership with the City of Waterville, a four-block section is being redeveloped that will transform Main Street into a thriving destination for visitors, residents, and new businesses.

The signature piece of the master plan, and the first new construction project in downtown Waterville in decades, is the Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, a five-story, 103,000-square foot, mixed-use building with 52 student apartments and retail space. Designed for 200 students, the building also includes four, two-bedroom faculty apartments and four studio apartments for staff members; a first-floor fitness center; a studio wellness center for yoga or meditation; a classroom on the second floor with full A/V capabilities; two, two-story glassed-in social lounges for recreation and study; a fifth-floor reading room; study nooks on each floor; and laundry facilities on the third and fourth floors.

On the ground floor of the building is a 3,800-SF glassed-in multi-purpose community space, the Chace Community Forum, that is used as meeting space for Colby, the Waterville City Council, non-profit organizations, and other community groups. The ground floor also contains Camden National Bank’s new prototype location and retail space for additional tenants.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project?   Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons was an integral part of a revitalization plan endorsed by Waterville city government. An inclusive visioning process engaged diverse participants and partners including representatives from local institutions, business owners, downtown residents and citizens throughout the city and beyond. A pillar in the revitalization plan was to attract more residents to the downtown. The Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons has contributed to that goal by housing 200 students in addition to faculty and staff in eight apartments.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The larger planning process, of which this project is an element, commenced in the spring of 2015. In the summer of 2015 stakeholder workshops were held to discuss initial thoughts and “blue sky” ideas, framework concepts, initial priorities for implementation, transportation and public priorities. The City also completed two other workshops related to the revitalization goals, both in 2015; the Spring St intersection study and a Waterfront Public Workshop. Another integral pillar in the revitalization plan was a transportation study of downtown. The City, Colby and the Maine DOT partnered on this study that commenced in January of 2016. The City of Waterville formally endorsed the revitalization plan in February of 2016. Throughout the spring and summer of 2016 downtown business and resident meetings were held to obtain public input. Due to the occupancy deadline of the fall 2018, Colby pursued a design-build methodology. After the issuance of a request for proposal to multiple firm and several months of diligence the project was awarded to the design-build team of Landry French Construction and Ayers Saint Gross. An agreement signed in April of 2017.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed. 

Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   First, the discovery of unsuitable soils at the project site during the first week of site work presented an unforeseen challenge. The standard geotechnical studies were performed prior to design, the site was evaluated from its historical uses and additional borings were performed. Unfortunately, the borings were located just outside of areas that were found to be abandoned basements filled with rubble. The initial foundation design was based on geo-piers, however, the encountered fill was found to not be usable with that design. A decision had to be made week 1 to change the foundation design and completely excavate the project site to native soils and move to a standard spread footing/foundation design.

Second was the winter of 2017/18. This building envelope is predominantly brick masonry units. To maintain the schedule, the masonry contractor had to provide the project with the labor necessary, which averaged between 25-30 masons and tenders daily. There was period of several weeks where the outside temperatures did not rise above zero and temperatures in the -15 below range were not uncommon. Keeping a masonry crew of that size and under those weather conditions, without losing time, took a dedicated crew (and a healthy winter conditions budget!). No time was lost and the quality of the masonry installation was not compromised.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

 Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The importance of regular, ongoing and honest communications with the public on the street. Waterville is a small city (population of 16,000) that had not experienced any downtown construction in over 50 years. The local community was intensely interested in this project, which became the center of conversation at the library, local lunch counter and pubs. Maintaining transparency and credibility was critically important.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

 Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The new Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons is a noteworthy project because it’s part of a broader revitalization effort undertaken by Colby College, city leaders, local businesspeople and community organizations in downtown Waterville. The investment is already showing a payoff, both economically and socially.

The Alfond Main Street Commons, the first significant downtown building project undertaken in decades, was designed with civic engagement in mind, deepening the connection between Colby and the broader Waterville community. The social impact has been tremendous with 200 students who are now active in the community, partnering and volunteering with nonprofits and other community organizations.

The project has infused millions of dollars into the local economy, and also been the catalyst for additional economic activity and investment in downtown Waterville. Main Street is now a thriving destination for visitors, residents, and businesses.

July 9, 2019 at 8:03 am · · 0 comments

MEREDA’s Year in Review 2018 -2019

Since its inception, MEREDA has continued to make progress on behalf of the development community addressing the challenges and issues relating to Maine’s real estate activities.  MEREDA’s strength has always come from the support and participation of its valued members. While we look forward to the beginning of a new fiscal year, it is important that we take a moment to look back and reflect on our accomplishments, and take time to thank you, MEREDA’s members, (330+) for your investment in the Association over the year.  Your continuing support is critical to our ability to maintain and increase our advocacy work, programs and related services, which are all vital to development interests in Maine.  

It’s been a very busy year, and we are excited to share with you our “Year in Review 2018 – 2019”.

MEREDA’s Three Overarching Priorities.  MEREDA continues to serve its members’ mutual interests in responsible development by advocating for fair and predictable regulation, hosting events rich with educational and industry insight, all the while providing opportunities to network with a diverse group of real estate professionals.  

Advocacy

MEREDA Legislation Receives Unanimous Vote to Advance from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee – MEREDA submitted LD 550 to correct a technical error in a law that created a waiver from subdivision review for projects dividing a building into three or more dwelling units. LD 550 corrects an erroneous statutory reference to restore the original intent of the law, which is to allow those projects to receive a waiver from subdivision law so long as they have been approved under a municipal site plan review ordinance.

On May 30, 2019, Governor Mills signed into law LD 550, An Act to Amend the Definition of “Subdivision” in the Laws Governing Planning and Land Use Regulation for Subdivisions and a Provision Excepting the Division of a New or Existing Structure from Those Laws Beginning July 1, 2018. LD 550 is chaptered law at 2019 Public Law, Chapter 174, and will take effect 90 days from the date of final legislative adjournment.

MEREDA Work on Non-Residential Property Transaction Disclosure for Abutting Roads – This session, two bills were submitted dealing with the non-residential property disclosure enacted in 2018 as part of a law dealing with discontinued roads. The law enacted in 2018 requires the seller of non-residential real property to disclose to the buyer information, if known, regarding the existence and maintenance (including the existence of any responsible road association) of abandoned or discontinued town ways, the existence of public easements and the existence of any private roads located on or abutting the property.  MEREDA submitted a bill, LD 1181, proposing to repeal all the required disclosures for non-residential property transactions.  The Maine Association of Realtors (MAR) submitted a bill, LD 848, that proposed to narrow the non-residential property disclosures to mirror residential property disclosures as they relate to public ways and maintenance of the public ways.  Ultimately, the Committee adopted LD 848 as a compromise measure.  This new law will limit the scope of non-residential disclosure to information, if known, describing the means of accessing the property by a public way, and to information related to the maintenance of the public way, or to any relevant road association.  It will remove the requirement to disclose the existence of abandoned or discontinued town ways and public easements. The new law was signed by the Governor on May 23 and is chaptered at 2019 Public Laws, Chapter 142. It will take effect 90 days from the date of legislative adjournment – sometime early this fall.

MEREDA’s Legislative Reception on March 13, 2019 at the Senator Inn was well-attended by legislators from a number of committees, including Environment and Natural Resources, Taxation, Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business, and Labor and Housing.  Members of the MEREDA Board as well as other members were on hand to greet legislators, share information about the commercial real estate and development industry, and get updates on the events under the dome.

Education & Insight

Morning Menu Meetings, Networking Events, Conferences – MEREDA has held nearly 20 events this past year – topics ranging from AIA Contracts, Workforce Development, Opportunity Zones, among others. MEREDA’s breakfast and social events held throughout the state bring together highly-regarded experts.

DevelopME continues to develop its “Lunch & Learn” series aimed at drawing on the expertise of MEREDA’s seasoned members and sharing their experiences with this group of emerging professionals, as well as a mentorship program, walking tours, and other special projects to cultivate and connect MEREDA’s future leaders within the organization.

Successful Forecast and Spring Conferences – MEREDA’s signature event, the annual Forecast Conference and Member Showcase in January attracted 1000+ attendees, and this year’s spring conference saw 300 attendees. Each year, MEREDA works hard to find forward thinking, trend-worthy topics for the annual spring conference, and each year seems to amaze us!  This year our goal for the spring conference focused on the Future of Housing in Maine and brought together industry leaders to collaborate and innovate on finding solutions for the housing challenges Maine faces.

MEREDA Index – MEREDA is always keeping its finger on the pulse of the state’s real estate market. The Spring 2019 MEREDA Index reflects a solid performance in the real estate market coming in at 100.1.

With increased construction costs impacting projects statewide, there are many questions as to how the real estate market will be affected.  While the Index showed a slight 2% ebb primarily because of declines in the commercial market, Index commentators see vibrant, active markets with plenty of opportunities in the future.

“I’ve always found the MEREDA Index to be an extremely valuable tool,” says Tim Soley of East Brown Cow Management, Inc.  “Not only is it a great source for measuring changes in our industry over time, but it is also a wellspring of information from industry leaders sharing their insights,” continues Soley.

Learn more by watching the following video or downloading the hard copy.

The Maine Real Estate Insider –Published by Mainebiz, this weekly e-newsletter provides a valuable source for all things real estate in Maine – including recent transactions, promotions and valuable and informative content for you and your business. It is MEREDA’s pleasure to support our members and the health of this important Maine industry by continuing to provide weekly content to this online newsletter which features news and information from MEREDA as well as from Maine’s real estate community.

MEREDA relies on members like you to help us provide the weekly content for MEREDA’s sidebar.  We encourage all members who have an interest, to contact us with any questions or story ideas: info@mereda.org.  Articles should be informational / educational items, trends, etc. that pertains to real estate and that would be useful to the membership or general reader.

Vice President of Operations Shelly R. Clark at Build Maine – June 6, 2019


Build Maine
 – Again this year, MEREDA supported “Build Maine: a tactical approach to growing Maine towns and cities” in its new venue at the Royal Oak Room & Iron Horse Court in Lewiston with a day-long program of dynamic, nationally renowned speakers.  Build Maine brings together all people participating in the act of building our cities. The builders, funders, elected officials, engineers, lawyers, planners, finance institutions, and rule-makers converge annually to share best practices and aspirations for moving Maine forward within the political and economic climates of today.  MEREDA is pleased to be able to support and participate in this annual event.

 

Networking

The opportunity to connect with a diverse network of real estate professionals and related service providers is a valued benefit of the MEREDA membership.  Over the years, many beneficial business relationships have begun at one of our annual social events, conferences, breakfast forums, and even through committee work.  We held 3 annual networking events, along with providing separate socializing time at our annual Forecast & Spring conferences, Bowl-a-Thon, and breakfasts, which give our members several opportunities to get to know one another.

Annual Strikes for Scholars – On May 23rd, MEREDA hosted its 7th Annual “Strikes for Scholars” Bowl-a-Thon Fundraising Event at Bayside Bowl in Portland.  MEREDA members put together 24 teams to raise money and fund scholarships for Maine students enrolled in the building trades and business programs at the Maine Community College System or the College of Science, Technology & Health at USM. Again this year, MEREDA will be able to provide sixteen $1250 scholarships to students throughout the State.  Since the fundraiser’s inception, MEREDA is proud to have raised and donated over $107,000 in scholar­ships helping over 78 Maine students by making it a little easier for them to achieve their goal of obtaining a college credential.

Thank you to our faithful members!  Your continued support ensures that we can continue to provide value and remain the most active nonprofit helping to promote responsible development in Maine.  We wish you an enjoyable summer and look forward to seeing you back here this fall for more great events beginning in September.

July 2, 2019 at 7:00 am · · 0 comments

Maine Real Estate & Development Association Announces 2019-20 Officers

The Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) is pleased to announce its 2019-20 slate of officers, which include Bruce Jones of Creative Office Pavilion and Josh Fifield of Clark Insurance serving as Vice Presidents, Mark Stasium of Camden National Bank as Treasurer, and Bill Shanahan of Northern New England Housing Investment Fund as Assistant Treasurer. Gary Vogel of Drummond Woodsum will continue as President, in the second year of his two-year term, and Shelly R. Clark continues as Secretary of the Board in addition to serving full-time as the organization’s Vice President of Operations.

L-R: Gary Vogel, Bruce Jones, Josh Fifield, Bill Shanahan, Mark Stasium, and Shelly R. Clark

For further information, please contact MEREDA’s Vice President of Operations, Shelly R. Clark at 207-874-0801.

June 25, 2019 at 8:00 am · · Comments Off on The Evolution of Retail Ownership

The Evolution of Retail Ownership

By John Meador, Associate Broker, The Boulos Company

The consumer retail sector continues to strategize around how to reposition physical stores to offset the growing demand of online shoppers. Many experts suggest that retailers have figured it out—companies understand the necessary steps to create a profitable retail experience. This strategy, however, could just be delaying the inevitable. Pop up shops and smaller stores may present a way to merely stay afloat until technology makes physical retail—other than dining and entertainment—entirely obsolete.

The industrial sector has been the widely-reported beneficiary of retail’s supposed demise.  Conventional industrial, consisting of loading docks and ample clear height, has become one of the hottest institutional investments of this real estate cycle.  Moreover, as yields have continued to compress for well-located industrial, operators have had success creating scale within the product type by way of small to mid-size transactions. These operators are being handsomely rewarded for their efforts through portfolio exits to buyers with a longer-term investment horizon and a lower cost of capital. Industrial’s popularity has created a new vernacular: “E-commerce,” “Clicks and Bricks,” “BOPIS,” “The Amazon Effect” and more. The historical separation of retail and industrial has created a conversation predicated on one of them winning and one losing. Since the interdependence of retail and industrial is more obvious than ever, why does industrial exist as a separate product type at all?

Across the country, the exploration of physical retail and/or mall conversions into industrial has become fairly commonplace; however, only a handful of owners have decided to spend the capital to execute this strategy. Some of the reported difficulties around converting retail shopping centers into industrial include:

  1. High-quality retail assets have historically garnered higher triple net rents and valuations than industrial product.A combination of improved leasing fundamentals and cap rate compression within urban areas and high quality suburban industrial, will soon make this point moot.
  2. Zoning typically prohibits industrial use within retail-oriented areas.While this is true today, an increase in big box retail conversions into quasi distribution centers will pressure many municipalities to rethink either the use definition or the underlying zoning entirely.
  3. Municipalities tend to gain more tax revenue from retail uses (additional layer in sales tax) than industrial.However, E-commerce sales projections ($1 trillion+ by 2025) will make this argument less relevant over the coming decade.

Will there be a tipping point where the real estate community merges conventional definitions of industrial and retail into one product type?  Will it only happen once downtown retail storefronts and/or full buildings finally evolve into true “last-mile” drone delivery warehouses?  Only time will tell, but the changing market suggests this merger is at least justifiable.  If current retail owners have the confidence and capital to weather the storm of an evolving market, they could profit considerably from owning the best “industrial” locations all along.

Originally published on May 30, 2019, https://boulos.com/the-evolution-of-retail-ownership/

 

June 18, 2019 at 8:00 am · · Comments Off on The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Riverview Terrace Apartments

The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Riverview Terrace Apartments

In multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Please join with us in celebrating Riverview Terrace Apartments in Westbrook.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  Riverview Terrace is an 83-unit, scattered-site, senior affordable housing development in Westbrook, Maine.  Building 1, at 21 Knight Street, features 58 apartments and was built circa 1973. Building 2, at 10 Liza Harmon Drive, features 25 apartments and was built circa 1983.

Originally developed as Public Housing, Riverview Terrace has been proudly operated for over 40 years by the Westbrook Housing Authority. However, following years of Federal budget cuts to public housing, Riverview Terrace faced mounting capital needs in a time of dwindling capital and operating assistance.

In 2015, Westbrook Housing partnered with Anew Development to pilot the HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD), which allows public housing to be privatized in the interest of preserving and enhancing affordable housing. The developers navigated RAD and pursued new capital investments. In 2018, the property underwent a nearly $7MM rehabilitation; bringing it into the 21st century by providing energy and life/safety improvements and general modernization.

Riverview Terrace was the first public housing property in Maine to be transitioned through the HUD RAD program and the developers’ successful navigation of this complex Federal program has provided a leading model for other public housing authorities across the state.

Renovations at Riverview Terrace provided numerous energy efficiency improvements from enhanced insulation and air-sealing to new windows and doors. These physical efficiency measures compound with the inherent transportation energy efficiencies that Riverview Terrace has always provided by virtue of its smart growth location in the heart of a major Westbrook/Portland service center area served by sidewalks and high frequency public bus service.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project? 

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  Affordable housing properties like Riverview Terrace provide precious housing assistance to area seniors in need. Regrettably, following years of Federal budget cuts to public housing, Riverview Terrace faced mounting capital needs in a time of dwindling capital and operating assistance. It was very clear to Westbrook Housing that something had to be done to address the mounting physical and financial needs of the project to preserve it for future generations.

The release of the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD) by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided a unique opportunity to reimagine and rebuild Riverview Terrace and allow it to start anew.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  The HUD RAD public housing conversion program was approved by Congress in 2012 but it took until 2013 before project funding and guidelines for public housing became clear. In December of 2013, Westbrook Housing submitted Riverview Terrace to HUD among the earliest, first wave of public housing RAD conversion applications.

The early years of the RAD program were marked by very limited resources and still evolving administrative policies making the application process, at times, feel like a bold and uncertain move into uncharted territory. Indeed, the Riverview Terrace application was not immediately approved and spent the whole of 2014 on a waiting list awaiting the outcome of Congressional budget decisions.

In 2015, responding to very strong and mounting demand for the program nationally, Congress appropriated significant new resources to the program and Riverview Terrace was finally able to come off of the waiting list and receive its preliminary RAD approval.

That same year, the developers began working in earnest to secure a wide and diverse range of new sources of funding for the property such as low-income housing tax credits, private equity grants and low-interest housing loans, and tax increment financing. This process took the better part of two years to fully navigate but in 2017 the developers did secure the nearly $7MM in funds that would be needed to fully rehabilitate the property.

2018 saw the rehabilitation / construction process implemented. Managing a comprehensive renovation in a nearly fully occupied property presented challenges and required the rehabilitation work to be conducted in multiple phases with residents being temporarily accommodated elsewhere in their building while the renovation of their apartment was in progress.

All told, the developers invested over five years of effort to bring the RAD conversion and rehabilitation of Riverview Terrace from concept to completion.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  First it was the uncertainty of the newly minted and somewhat complex HUD RAD program; would we be approved? would there be funding available? Next there was the challenge of raising nearly $7MM in redevelopment capital from eight distinct sources. Finally, performing a deep and comprehensive renovation on a nearly fully occupied building.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

Riverview Terrace Apartments:  Summitting mountain as large as this meant getting knocked down many times along the way. By maintaining our resolve and banding close with our strategic partners, we were able to repeatedly dust off our pants and keep hiking to the top. We all learned the importance of resisting doubt and discouragement, maintaining the vision, and persevering to the end.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Riverview Terrace was the first public housing property in Maine to be transitioned through the HUD RAD program and the developers’ successful navigation of this complex Federal program. We have provided a leading model for other public housing authorities across the state.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the entire Riverview Terrace team, these 83 units of quality senior housing have been renewed and repositioned to serve scores of future Westbrook area seniors for generations to come in an environment that supports them not just with financial security but with independence, comfort, safety, social connectivity, and health and well-being.

June 4, 2019 at 8:00 am · · Comments Off on Environmental Liability of Former Dry Cleaner Properties

Environmental Liability of Former Dry Cleaner Properties

By Keith Taylor, C.G., P.G. – Technical Lead & Senior Environmental Geologist at St.Germain Collins

Modern dry cleaning operations today follow strict rules to ensure that the common dry cleaning chemical tetrachloroethene (PCE) is properly managed and disposed of. However, from the 1930s when PCE was first used until the early 1980s, the environmental risks of PCE were not known and essentially had no regulatory requirements for handling and disposal.

Similar to the emerging contaminant PFAS, which has been in the news, PCE is resistant to degradation. Releases of PCE from decades ago remain  an environmental liability in many urban locations.

PCE also is highly volatile and its vapors can be generated from contaminated soil or groundwater and migrate away from the source. In fact, the most common risk is for PCE  vapor migration into buildings via cracks in the floor or gaps between the foundation and floor.

So how do you proceed with developing a property that was either formerly a dry cleaner or potentially adjacent to a former a dry cleaner?

Environmental due diligence is a great first step, as it typically includes a review of the history of the subject property as well as abutting properties. Identifying former dry cleaners most often occurs through the review of historical data sources such as Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and city directories. The 1957 Sanborn map pictured at right identifies a dry cleaner in Lewiston with a solvent tank in the basement. PCE contamination was in fact found in soil vapor on the abutting property in 2018.

Another site in Westbrook was occupied by a dry cleaner until the 1960s when the building was demolished as part of urban renewal. A new building was constructed on the property in the 1970s, yet PCE was still detected beneath its basement floor nearly forty years later.

More problematic is when a former dry cleaner is not identified before the property is redeveloped. 

A recent example occurred in Auburn, Maine where a 15-unit apartment complex was constructed in 1987 at the site of a former dry cleaner that operated from 1950 to 1986. It wasn’t until 2013 that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (Maine DEP) sampled the soil vapor and indoor air and found high levels of PCE.  The apartment building owner had nothing to do with the former dry cleaner, yet they will likely be responsible for investigation and remediation costs.

After reading these examples, anyone involved in real estate may reasonably conclude that former dry cleaner sites are to be avoided at all costs.

However, there are both technical and regulatory options that can eliminate the risk to human health and significantly reduce future liability. 

First, PCE was described earlier as being very volatile. While this attribute can cause vapor migration into buildings, it also makes the removal of PCE beneath buildings relatively simple.

There are two approaches to removing PCE vapors from beneath existing buildings:

  • installing a simple venting system similar to those used for residential radon removal; these systems require continuous operation for the lifespan of the building; or
  • installing a soil vapor extraction system that more aggressively vents the sub-slab soil such that PCE levels permanently decline at which time the system can be turned off.

Both approaches are relatively inexpensive and have been employed for decades across the country.  Periodic indoor air sampling is required during operation of either system.

For new buildings, a sub-slab vapor barrier can be installed during construction to prevent migration from below into the buildings.

With respect to environmental liability, the Maine DEP is very familiar with PCE-contaminated dry cleaner sites and the sub-slab venting systems. Under their Voluntary Response Action Program (VRAP), the Maine DEP can provide legally-based liability protections if the extent of the PCE contamination is adequately characterized and if an approved remediation system is installed.

Also keep in mind that PCE vapor beneath the floor does not necessarily mean vapor intrusion into the building is going to occur. Low levels of PCE or a “tight” floor and foundation can limit migration into a building such that a human health risk does not exist.   In this situation, the Maine DEP VRAP would want solid documentation of this condition and commonly require that any new buildings be constructed with a vapor barrier.

Whatever the scenario, former dry cleaner sites can be redeveloped with no risk to human health and limited liability if the appropriate due diligence is completed.

May 28, 2019 at 8:26 am · · Comments Off on MEREDA Brings Together Industry Leaders to Collaborate and Innovate on Housing

MEREDA Brings Together Industry Leaders to Collaborate and Innovate on Housing

On Tuesday, May 7, some 300 members of Maine’s real estate industry gathered in Portland for the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s (MEREDA’s) 2019 Spring Conference on the future of housing in Maine.  With housing at a critical juncture in Maine, MEREDA and its members are committed to finding ways to respond to existing challenges and support responsible development for the future.

“MEREDA and its members want to be part of the solution, which is why we put this important conference together,” says Gary Vogel, MEREDA President. Vogel gave introductory remarks at the conference which brought together industry leaders to collaborate and innovate on finding solutions for the housing challenges Maine faces.

The conference included a keynote presentation by Dr. Lynn Fisher of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Dr. Fisher provided both national and state economic data, painting a bigger picture of the housing situation.  Reflecting on the nearly 10-year economic recovery in our country, Fisher says, “Economic expansion does not die of old age,” but noted it is important to recognize that this is a mature cycle.  Fisher’s presentation included a discussion of finding ways to produce more housing at a lower price point and seeking out inventive policies to address the myriad of issues inherent to housing in Maine.

Martin Ditto of Ditto Residential in Washington, D.C. also provided a keynote and spoke about his mission to build cohousing communities as one possible solution to the housing crisis.  He urged real estate developers to think beyond merely building houses, but to help create communities where people can connect with one another.

The event also included a panel discussion with local experts Dan Brennan of MaineHousing, Matt O’Malia of GO Logic, and Hannah Pingree the Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, as well as questions from the audience.  Dan Brennan laid out the needs of Maine: “Maine needs 20,000 more affordable homes in the state.  Our most recent production has been around 300 units per year.  Our goal is to get to 1000.” On building affordable housing he continued, “We know how to do it, we’re just not doing enough of it.”

Looking to the future, Matt O’Malia and Hannah Pingree spoke on the need for more efficient homes.  O’Malia, an architect by training, has developed a sustainable insulation product made from wood fiber which will be produced in Maine and provide jobs for Mainers.  Making homes more efficient and better insulated is a goal of Governor Mills’ administration, and Pingree spoke about the challenge of keeping people in their homes and able to afford to heat them.

With the advent of tiny homes and 3-D printed homes, the panel acknowledged the need for more innovative approaches to housing. Whether or not people will want these types of homes remains a question, but thinking outside the box on how to produce affordable housing needs to be part of the conversation.  As Fisher pointed out earlier in the conference, innovation also needs to be applied to the policy side of things.  Having a few brave mayors and town councils try out different zoning policies could have a big impact on how communities can answer the need for housing.

At the end of the day, the conference showed that there are no easy answers to the housing problem in Maine, but getting the right people together in the room to discuss ideas and solutions is where we need to start. “We look forward to continuing this conversation with developers, governmental officials, lenders, brokers and homebuyers to work on turning the ideas from the conference into practice and working on additional solutions to the housing issues faced by Mainers,” said Vogel.

May 21, 2019 at 8:06 am · · Comments Off on Maine Real Estate & Development Association Awards Top 6 Notable Projects of 2018

Maine Real Estate & Development Association Awards Top 6 Notable Projects of 2018

Projects from Portland to Boothbay Harbor to Augusta received special recognition at MEREDA’s 2019 annual Spring Conference in Portland on May 7.

The exemplary projects from across the state, completed in 2018, not only embody MEREDA’s belief in responsible real estate development, but also exemplify best practices in the industry, contributing to Maine’s economic growth by significant investment of resources and job creation statewide.

Each of the six projects was selected in part based upon criteria including: noteworthy and significant project completed* in 2018 (*Building Occupancy Permit must be issued by 12 31 18.), environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, social impact, uniqueness, difficulty of development and job creation.

The recipients of MEREDA’s Top 6 Most Notable Projects of 2018 include:

  • Westbrook Housing, Westbrook Development Corporation, and Anew Development’s  Riverview  Terrace in Westbrook
  • Dirigo Capital Advisors’ Ballard Center in Augusta
  • Paul G. Coulombe’s Boothbay Harbor Country Club in Boothbay Harbor
  • Colby College’s Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons in Waterville
  • Developers Collaborative & Sea Coast Management’s The Motherhouse in Portland
  • Bateman Partners’ Topsham Care Center in Topsham

For more information on these impressive projects, please click here.

May 14, 2019 at 8:33 am · · Comments Off on Challenges and Opportunities: The MEREDA Index Tells the Story of Maine’s Real Estate Markets

Challenges and Opportunities: The MEREDA Index Tells the Story of Maine’s Real Estate Markets

Industry leaders gathered in Portland on May 7 to attend the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s (MEREDA’s) Annual Spring Conference to discuss solutions and challenges in the future of housing in Maine.   As part of the Conference, MEREDA released its 13th edition of the MEREDA Index, a key economic indicator for the state of Maine. With increased construction costs impacting projects statewide, there are many questions as to how the real estate market will be affected.  While the Index showed a slight 2% ebb primarily because of declines in the commercial market, Index commentators see vibrant, active markets with plenty of opportunities in the future.

“I’ve always found the MEREDA Index to be an extremely valuable tool,” says Tim Soley of East Brown Cow Management, Inc.  “Not only is it a great source for measuring changes in our industry over time, but it is also a wellspring of information from industry leaders sharing their insights,” continues Soley.

Regarding rising construction prices, Richard Brescia of Cianbro says, “Considering that budgets for today’s construction projects may have been developed a year or two years ago, the costs increases are sobering for owners.  Looking ahead, Cianbro believes contractors can mitigate this by employing creative solutions such as lean construction principles and a collaborative construction management (CM) delivery approach.”

The MEREDA Index was tabulated by economist Dr. Charles Colgan and is a measure of real estate activity designed to track changes in Maine’s real estate markets.  The Index is a composite of nine seasonally adjusted measures reflecting both new development and transactions involving existing properties and it covers both the commercial and residential markets statewide.  This most recent release covers the last quarter of 2018 through the first quarter of 2019 and includes commentary from Tim Soley of East Brown Cow Management, Inc.; Joseph Porta, SIOR of Porta & Co. Commercial Real Estate; Elise Kiely, Esq. of Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, and Richard Brescia of Cianbro.

This edition of the MEREDA Index is supported by Cianbro, Porta & Co. Commercial Real Estate, SMRT Architects | Engineers, and XPress Copy

Click here to download the full report.  For more information and a video on the MEREDA Index, please click here.

April 9, 2019 at 8:50 am · · Comments Off on Retail Trends Moving Forward in 2019

Retail Trends Moving Forward in 2019

Karen Rich, Broker, Malone Commercial Brokers

I was happy to present the Greater Portland Retail portion of the MEREDA 2019 Forecast conference last month in Portland, where we took a look back at 2018 and where retail trends are moving forward in 2019.

Locally, the retail market has remained very strong.  Greater Portland numbers show a vacancy rate just slightly higher than it was a year or two ago at just over 5%.  Vacancy rates in the Old Port and Downtown Portland barely register.  But, that being said, if you keep an eye on trends, you can start to see some slight changes.  Retail spaces in the Old Port tend to remain available a little longer than they did a few years ago.  Of course, the prices per square foot are still extremely high – there are actually prices being paid in the Old Port of $48 per square foot!  Crazy, I know, but typically those spaces tend to be fairly small and in the most well-located places in the City!  Regardless, the retail market in the Greater Portland area remains very strong.

The Greater Portland market is comprised of the communities of Portland, South Portland, Scarborough, Westbrook, Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth.  The retail report compiled by Malone Commercial Brokers tracks over 6.5M SF of retail spaces throughout this area.  Of that square footage, vacancy is only approximately 365,000 SF.  The Per Square Foot average price for those spaces remains high in the $15.00-$19.00 range.    Yes, there are some big box stores that have remained vacant for a few years.  Case in point is the former Bon Ton/former Filene’s space BUT there is talk of repositioning that type of bigger box space into other types of uses.  Uses like medical office and similar that could benefit from a Maine Mall location.  Certainly, the trend with big box retailers is to prototype their stores slightly smaller and use each square foot more judiciously than in the past.

The impact of a flourishing restaurant scene on retailers is self-evident. Portland, Maine (as we all know by now) was named 2018 Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine. I’d like to say that it put Portland on the map but the truth of the matter is that Portland has been on the map for a number of years.  It may now be getting all the recognition that our beloved city deserves.   Greater Portland has long been a favorite of foodies and has also become very well known for its breweries and craft beer making which has made it a “must stop” on many travelers’ destinations.  When you factor in all of the new restaurants, amazing chefs, and some of our long-standing favorites that have been with us for 30 years and more, you have an exciting restaurant city that is just going to continue to become more and more popular.   The success of the restaurants which helps bring many of the tourists also has significant impact on local and regional retail shops.

Retail Trends:

One of the aspects of retail that I took at look at for the retail presentation had to do with trends in retail and how retail is faring both locally and nationally and the obvious impact from e-commerce sales.  The one notable and memorable quote that I came across during my research was (to paraphrase) “It is no longer an us vs them mentality” as in e-commerce vs bricks and mortars.  Instead it has become important that bricks and mortars retailers adapt and create an Omnichannel Strategy for their customers.  Retailers don’t really care if you shop online on their website and ship the package to your home, OR if you shop online on their website and pick up your purchase at their local bricks and mortar store OR if you come and shop in their store.  Any of these three variations means you are spending your retail dollars with them!  Hence the Omnichannel Strategy – offers you the option to purchase wherever you want and wherever you feel most comfortable but shop with them!

To make that shopping experience an even more positive one, retailers are developing what is called Experiential Retail.  Experiential Retail is generally defined as a store in which stuff happens in addition to selling, and shoppers do things besides buying. The idea is that a retailer offers consumers a chance to buy an experience rather than just an object or service.   This can be accomplished through any number of activities but typically is also linked to technology and using technological advances in apps that make the shopping experience a fun and convenient one.

The last word is, retailers need to remain flexible and willing to make changes, as well as bring in new systems as they become available.  The key word for Retailers today is Adapt, Adapt, Adapt!