A man crosses the street in downtown Biddeford on a scorching Thursday Aug. 12, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Local leaders expressed shock and anger about the apparent plans of potential buyers of the Pepperell Mills campus in downtown Biddeford to raise rent on tenants.

The 10 buildings concerned house roughly 300 residential and commercial tenants. The potential buyers revealed their plans in a pitch to out-of-state investors, advertising the rent hike as a way to get investors’ money back following their purchase of the buildings.

“Normally, I would be excited about new possibilities for our downtown,” said Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford, “especially knowing the great work Doug Sanford has done to bring life to formerly shuttered mill buildings. However, the prospective purchasers indicated that rents will increase on families and businesses located in the mills.”

In their message to investors, the potential buyers described rents in the Pepperell Mill campus as 20-35 percent below market value and for commercial units, they said the rents are 20-50 percent below market value, hinting at double-digit rent increases for tenants.

“At the heart of the work we’ve done in Biddeford, one of our missions has been to preserve affordable housing, which we view as a critical element for economic stability and thriving families and communities,” said Biddeford’s Mayor Alan Casavant of Biddeford. “This brazen rent increase would be a devastating blow to the small businesses who have revitalized our community.”

Fecteau, Casavant and the Biddeford delegation are inviting the Maine-based developers to a meeting at the Speaker’s office in Augusta to learn about their intentions, according to Fecteau.