Still no takers for free land in Camden

This parcel in Camden can be free for a business that creates 24 jobs within five years.
This parcel in Camden can be free for a business that creates 24 jobs within five years. Buy Photo
Posted April 07, 2012, at 6 p.m.
Last modified April 09, 2012, at 5:32 a.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Two years after the town where the mountains meet the sea offered nearly 3 acres of commercial land at no cost, no business has stepped forward to take advantage of the deal.

But the lack of takers is not because of lack of trying on the part of Camden.

The 2.8 acres is located along the Megunticook River and has three-phase power, public water and public sewer.

Brian Hodges, the town’s development director, said the slow economy appears to be the reason that no business has taken the town up on the free land.

The Washington Street property was acquired by the town in 2003 after the former Apollo Tannery shut down and the property owners did not pay their taxes. The decades of the tannery operating at the site, however, left environmental problems. The town and state environmental agencies worked together and cleaned the property. In 2005, residents voted for a bond issue for the town to borrow $836,000 for the cleanup work. The town later received a $200,000 grant used to clean up brownfield sites.

The work was completed by 2008.

As the recession struck, town officials decided to try a marketing ploy to attract jobs to the community by offering the land for free. Residents have rated bringing year-round jobs to Camden as a top goal.

The site has been approved for state Pine Tree Zone eligibility which offers tax breaks and job recruitment incentives for businesses.

The new business would need to pay $175,000 upfront to the town but would get the money back in full if it creates 24 full-time jobs within five years.

The town had one offer to acquire the property a year ago when B.D. Turman’D Entertainment sought to purchase the 2.8 acres to build an 18,000-square-foot building for sound stages to film movies. The group said it planned to make $270 million worth of movies in Camden over the ensuing three years.

The Select Board signed a contract in March 2011 with the company, after which there was considerable criticism of the viability of the company by residents. B.D. Turman’D ceased pursuing the deal in April 2011, citing a variety of reasons including the criticism of some townspeople.

Any sale must go before residents at a referendum.

The town is using social media to try to attract a potential purchaser for the land.

The cause has a dedicated Facebook page and a dedicated website, http://www.freelandinmaine.org/, Hodges noted. The development director said he also has advertised the property on linkedin.com. The development director said that linkedin reaches chief executive officers, chief operating officers and entrepreneurs.

A video was has also been posted on YouTube.

“Social media is being used more and more for business development,” Hodges said.

The development director said Maine is one of the best states for startup businesses.

Hodges also said that while the town has not been able to attract a new business to the former tannery site, the town is still focusing on economic development.

“We’re focusing more on business retention and expansion,” he said.

But the town is still hoping to find a business to take advantage of the free land offer. The types of businesses that qualify for the program include biotech and life sciences, information technology, marine trades and boat building, financial services, graphic design and printing, precision manufacturing, medical research labs and green businesses.

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