ORONO, Maine — The building’s brick exterior is festooned with graffiti. Below the surface: asbestos. Inside are even more graffiti, along with trash and debris strewn in a haphazard fashion, suggesting bored teenagers or vagrants were the most recent visitors. The ground below the building has traces of arsenic and lead.
Yet amid the remains of the once-vibrant Webster Mill, town leaders see only potential.
With the help of a Portland-based developer, the site soon could be home to 24 upscale condominiums overlooking the Penobscot River.
The Orono Town Council will hold a public hearing next Monday and then will vote on whether the town should create a tax increment financing district to help move the project forward. Orono planner Evan Richert said a TIF district would be a credit enhancement agreement that makes some of the condo units more afford-able.
“It has the potential to be a tremendous project. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this can work,” he said.
Developers Collaborative of Portland signed an option agreement with the town earlier this year to retain exclusive rights to purchase the property within two years. While the cost of the land — $25,000 — was small, the cleanup is expected to cost more than $500,000, although $200,000 is covered by a grant from the U.S. En-vironmental Protection Agency.
Kevin Bunker of Developers Collaborative spoke at a public meeting about one year ago on the possibility of developing the site into condominiums, but stressed that the real estate market would dictate the project’s success.
“The natural beauty of the site is incredible,” Bunker said Monday. “So far, there seems to be a good response. Our profile seems to be downsizing retirees.”
Pauline Rock, a realtor with ERA Dawson-Bradford, has been in charge of soliciting interest by way of pre-sales or soft commitments from potential buyers. If Rock can get commitments from 13 buyers, the project is likely to go forward, Bunker said.
The proposed condos range from two-bedroom units covering 858 square feet starting at $179,900 to two-bedroom units spanning 1,382 feet starting at 289,900. The cost would not include condo association fees estimated at $185 a month.
Although the development would be private, the project is expected to include a public component featuring walking trails and a small boat launch.
By creating a TIF district, which would last 16 years, Orono can leverage taxes to offset the retail costs of the condos, Richert said. Additional TIF money then would be used to make improvements to that area.
Bunker said the TIF is a critical piece of the financing needed for the project. His firm recently developed a 37-unit condominium project in Portland.