Hampden interested in marketing old Hampden Academy grounds for development

Posted Feb. 05, 2013, at 10:15 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — If someone has the right idea for developing a riverfront, 22-acre property complete with paved parking areas and pre-existing buildings, the town of Hampden is interested in making a deal.

“The town of Hampden is offering the right price for the right development,” said Dean Bennett, Hampden’s community and economic development director. “I think the message is we’ve got a piece of land and we’re searching for a developer to bring us the right kind of development, and if it’s the right development, you get a free piece of land.”

But there are conditions.

“Hampden won’t compromise its character for the sake of development,” said Bennett.

Bennett is putting the finishing touches on a brochure of sorts to distribute nationwide to attract interest in the property, upon which the former Hampden Academy and many of its athletics facilities sit.

“The message I want to get out is the town is open for business and we’re seeking something that will be harmonious and compatible with existing uses and with the community as a whole,” he said. “And we need to have a plan and commitment that we can count on and follow, and know we will, whether it’s a five-, eight- or 15-year plan.”

Bennett said the development possibilities are numerous. When asked for examples, he mentioned medical facilities, assisted living facilities, housing units and offices.

The requests for development proposals should be going out by the end of this month after the Town Council approves them.

“There’s a lot of opportunities with this parcel. It’s on riverfront with athletic fields, and it’s relatively flat land, so there isn’t a need for a lot of grading and earthwork,” Bennett said.

The idea of offering the land free for the right development plan came from a joint meeting of the council’s planning and development and community services committees attended by all six councilors.

“The idea is to see if there are any developers out there with an interest in this and a plan that fits,” said Councilor Tom Brann. “If there isn’t, we’ll have to decide what we want to do with it before next winter, because the cost to heat those unoccupied buildings isn’t negligible.”

Brann estimated the total cost of owning the property to be about $100,000 so far. Much of that cost is for the heating and care of the buildings.

The town only has owned the property for about two months. It was acquired in a land swap deal with SAD 22, which governs the school system for Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport. The district opened a new high school in September.

Shortly after acquiring the property, potential partners expressed interest in using parts of the property.

“As soon as we acquired it, opportunities started knocking,” Bennett said.

Bennett said Eastern Maine Community College, Beal College, the proposed Hampden charter school, Calvary Apostolic Church, Bangor Police Department and the Hampden Recreation Department all came to the council with proposals.

So far, the Hampden Recreation Department has moved into the Skehan Athletic Center and is using it as its headquarters and facility for youth and winter programs.

“The Skehan Center is being better utilized now and getting a lot of use, and they have a one-year lease on that facility,” said Bennett.

The Calvary Apostolic Church has taken over the school library and four adjoining classrooms, paying $20,000 to lease the space to use on Sundays and Wednesdays for one year while also completing $15,000 in improvements to the facility.

Bennett said the town’s goal is to “to identify a developer over the next three to six months.”

“We have decisions to make going into the fall in anticipation of a development. Our goal is to get someone in here and get a plan. Ideally, by June is when we’d like to have something.”

And if no workable or appropriate plan is offered?

“If not, we’ll probably mothball the site until someone comes forward with the right kind of plan for it,” said Brann.

Bennett hopes that’s not the case.

“We have an advantage in that I feel strongly that we have something unique to offer and a strong will to develop it in a nice community to invest in,” he said. “This is not a bad place to put your money.”

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