BELFAST, Maine — The owners of property zoned to accommodate a big-box retailer met with city officials recently and left committed to developing the site.
Mayor Walter Ash, City Manager Joseph Slocum and City Planner Wayne Marshall met with Bob and Gary Bahre a week ago.
Slocum said he believes the Bahres left the meeting with a strong impression of the city and firm in their belief that their property provided an ideal opportunity for putting a deal together.
The Bahres are the owners of an 80-acre parcel off Route 3 that the city has designated as suitable for a general merchandise-grocery store similar to a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The Bahres have a number of developments across the country and, until a year ago, were the owners of New Hampshire International Speedway.
“My sense is that they want to work with the local community,” Slocum said Monday. “This was not some holding company out of Ohio with five letters after its name. This was two people that look you in the eye and tell you how they feel. I think we can work with them.”
Slocum said he, Marshall and Ash met with the Bahres for more than an hour, gave them a guided tour of the city, and provided them with information about the zoning requirements for their property. He said the father-and-son team had never been to Belfast before and were “pleasantly surprised” by what they saw.
Slocum said he drove the Bahres by their property, showed them the expansion at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center and Renys Plaza as well as the new Goodwill store a short distance from their parcel.
“We barely drove by the post office when they started talking about how nice the downtown looked and how welcoming it was,” Slocum said. “I think they appreciated the downtown and waterfront and how important a part they play in the overall development of the city. They told us point blank that they were walking away with a great impression of the area.”
The city debated big-box stores for more than a decade before finally deciding that the property that formerly housed Les Hills Auto Body and salvage yard was a suitable site for large retail development.
Hills sold the property to then-credit card lender MBNA, which in turn sold it to its corporate successor Bank of America Corp. The Bahres bought the parcel a year ago. The major restriction placed on the site is that any large project must include both a grocery and general merchandise store.
“They have done a lot of those kinds of developments and have a lot of business relationships. They know all the players and are significant development people. I think the city is fortunate to have someone like that involved,” Slocum said of the Bahres. “I think it is on their radar for 2009, even in this economy. I think they see a lot of positive things here and I think they will try to do something to enhance it.”