ORONO, Maine — Eight drafts later, the Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to allow the town manager to sign a memorandum of agreement with University Credit Union — the next major step toward construction of a building the town hopes will become the landmark for Orono’s downtown.
UCU hopes to move its headquarters to the intersection of Bennoch Road and Main Street, the spot where the Katahdin Building stood until it burned down in 2009.
The credit union owns property at 6 Bennoch Road, which is the parcel of land that was home to the Katahdin Building. UCU purchased that property in 2010.
Orono owns two other properties adjacent to the former Katahdin Building parcel.
The Orono council also gave permission for Town Manager Sophie Wilson to sign a right of first refusal with the owner of 3 Main St., which sits between the Stillwater River and the three plots of land owned by the town and UCU. The right of first refusal gives the town the opportunity to match the price of anyone who makes an offer to buy the property within the next five years, according to Town Planner Evan Richert.
Informal talks about the deal began 18 months ago, and the town and credit union have gone through eight memorandum of agreement drafts in recent months.
“We’re excited,” Matthew Walsh, UCU president and CEO, said after the meeting. “We’ve been eager to get to this stage.”
The agreement calls for a 16,000-square-foot building that will include drive-through lanes, a parking area and a plaza. Designs will aim to make the building the “focal point” of the town.
“That’s the goal overall,” Walsh said. “To have the real center of town be there with the plaza.”
Walsh said UCU only would need to occupy about 8,000 square feet of the building at first, and the credit union would lease out the other half of the building to other companies for retail or office space.
Concepts for the public plaza include garden areas, seating and possibly a fountain. The parking area would be open to the public when spaces aren’t occupied by UCU employees during business hours.
Walsh said the UCU board will meet in coming weeks to consider the agreement. If it’s approved, the town, UCU and architects will move ahead with the planning and design phases.
Walsh expects construction could begin later this year.