CAMDEN, Maine — Last September the town announced it would give away 3.5 acres of riverside land to any business that wants it, so long as the company hires at least 24 people and pays them well.

The town received 14 inquiries by its Dec. 17 deadline and has now narrowed it down to three companies.

“We’re beginning discussions with three potential buyers. I can’t go into any more detail than that, but we are moving forward,” said the town’s interim economic development director, Mathew Eddy. “I can tell you that they are very much associated with the creative industries — the creative economy — and we’re pretty excited about that.”

Eddy will now research the three accepted applicants and request that they get back to him with more detailed information about their plans by next month.

The future owner of the land will have to pay $200,000 upfront. Then, for every eight workers hired, the owner will get a third of the purchase price refunded. The company will have five years to hit the 24-employee mark and get the full rebate of $200,000 before the offer expires. The jobs also must pay $45,165 including benefits per year to each worker.

The land will be challenging to build on since it sits beside the Megunticook River and used to house Apollo Tannery, which allowed tanning solvents to seep into the soil. Building on a brownfield site can cost more, so negotiating a zero-cost deal isn’t unusual in this type of situation, Eddy said last fall.

The town took ownership of the old tannery in 2003 after the previous owner didn’t pay his 2001 taxes. The town paid $836,000 to tear down the tannery and have some chemicals removed. Camden issued a bond to pay for that work and still owes $683,000.

Eddy said earlier this year that the property is commercially zoned, but in a residential neighborhood and consists of a paved lot, the tannery solvent-contaminated area and open space. A future owner can build on the property, but may have to tiptoe around the contaminated area. He added that sometimes government agencies do allow property owners to build on top of contaminated soils.

As for the 11 companies that are no longer in the running for the free land, Eddy said he has been encouraging them to look into other business areas in town, including the Knox Mill, which has rental space available for companies.