June 25, 2018
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Panel recommends hiring broker to sell Camden tannery land

By Tom Groening, BDN Staff

CAMDEN, Maine — It’s time to seek outside help to sell the former Apollo Tannery property on Washington Street, town officials agree.

The town’s Community Economic Development Advisory Committee is recommending the Select Board engage the services of a commercial real estate broker to sell the property. CEDAC will present its report and recommendations to the board Tuesday night.

After the former tannery owner failed to pay property taxes, the town ended up owning the 3½-acre former industrial site, on which animal hide tanning and similar activities had been conducted for more than a century. The town was leery of taking possession of the land for fear it also would inherit responsibility for cleaning up the polluted soils.

But the state Department of Environmental Protection gave the town assurances that it would not be on the hook for a complete remediation if the soils were left intact or covered.

Two years ago, the town crafted a creative scheme to market and sell the property. Or, more accurately, a scheme to give away the property.

The plan called for reimbursing the $200,000 sale price to a buyer who created 24 jobs with a commercial enterprise on the land. The buyer would have gotten one third of the purchase price back for each eight jobs created. The jobs would have had to pay better than the then-average Knox County annual wage of about $45,000. The buyer would have had five years to employ 24.

Though some businesses considered taking the deal, nothing came to fruition.

In an early September goal-setting workshop, the select board articulated its aim to “actively market the tannery property; refresh and rebrand the effort; [and] focus on green business,” according to the summary of that meeting. The board decided to ask the economic development committee to study the issue.

Committee chairman Peter Gross, in a memo to Town Manager Pat Finnigan, noted that the committee discussed the matter in two meetings. Among the ideas floated were using the site as a park, subdividing the parcel, and establishing business “incubator” space. But the committee’s consensus, Gross wrote, was that the land be sold to generate tax revenue.

The committee voted unanimously to enlist a commercial real estate broker to market and sell the site following a set of principles. Those principles include:

• It be sold to an entity that would create well-paying, year-round jobs and not draw away customers from existing businesses.

• Educational and cultural uses are acceptable, especially those that create year-round jobs.

• It be sold as a single parcel.

• Preference be given to buyers who would allow public access to the river, would keep the trees that line the street and would redevelop the property attractively and aesthetically compatible with the neighborhood.

The property lies along the Megunticook River, and is a 15-minute walk from downtown.

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