Signs letter of intent Aug. 5

Camden plans to sell tannery land to North East Mobile Health ambulance service

Wed, 08/06/2014 - 8:45am

    CAMDEN — Voting unanimously, the Camden Select Board agreed Aug. 5 to enter into negotiations with North East Mobile Health Services (NEMHS) to purchase the Tannery site on Washington Street.

    The price is $75,000. See attached PDFs for letter of intent and conceptual plans.

    In 2008, the appraised value of the 3.5-acre brownfield was $450,000. That dropped to $175,000, and today, it's appraised value is unknown. Its assessed value by the Town of Camden is $75,700.

    The Scarborough-base for-profit NEMHS provides emergency medical services to Camden Hope, Lincolnville, and Hope.  Since the service became the EMS provider for the four-towns last year, they have been looking for a suitable site to locate their administrative offices, said Patricia Finnigan, Camden Town Manager.

     Town leaders decided to recruit a commercial broker to help divest property once home to a leather tannery in the Millville neighborhood of Camden in 2012. 

    That year, Peter Gross told the Camden Select Board: “We have been talking about the tannery for years.”  Gross was then chairman of the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee (CEDAC), which was created in 2009 and charged with helping the town sell the 3.5-acre brownfield since cleaned according to state and federal environmental agency guidelines.

    The lot at 116 Washington St. has been staring in the town's fiscal face since 2003 when Camden acquired it in a lien foreclosure, and at the 2011 Camden Town Meeting, it was characterized by one resident as “Camden Follies, Act II.”

    The Apollo Tannery had closed in 1999, following a fire and financial problems.

    But Camden voters agreed to clean it up and attempt to sell it. The town invested close to $1 million, first demolishing the decrepit buildings, carting off some contaminated soil and capping more, hoping the vacant lot would eventually provide the community with a source of enterprise and employment. The town is still paying off that environmental investment, with annual bond payments of approximately $60,000. Aside from a brief period in 2006, when a Florida-based investor offered to purchase it for $100,000 (a deal that was terminated), and another deal that soured in 2011 with a film production company, the site of the former Apollo Tannery has held both promise and cost for the town for nine years.

    In 2008, another town committee that preceded CEDAC, the Tannery Work Group, recommended the town sell the property in accordance with guiding principles and buyer/developer qualifications. Incentives proposed by the group included supplying a "land for jobs" rebate as a means of encouraging the creation of year-round jobs. The goals then were far loftier than just divesting the land: the town wanted any potential buyer to create at least 24 new jobs, each each paying at least $40,000 in wages and benefits annually.

    Furthermore, preference was, according to the town, to be given to businesses that would stimulate other new employers to come to Camden without taking customers from any already existing business in the town. A list of acceptable businesses was created, along with a list of those that should not be encouraged in the redeveloped site.

    Acceptable businesses included bio-technology and life sciences; research and development; marine trades and boat building; higher education institutions; precision manufacturing and health care. Unacceptable businesses included outdoor boat storage; poultry, meat or seafood processing; auto repair shops and warehouse.

    In 2009, CEDAC retained Chris Shrum and the then-Knox-Waldo Regional Economic Development Council, with the help of approximately $24,000 in marketing funds, to attract a buyer. At the same time, CEDAC began to focus on its broader mission to help Camden stimulate its economic engine and create year-round employment.

    And while those efforts were under way, a group of Camden residents also began working on the idea of a Camden Riverwalk, a pathway that would run along the Megunticook River, and use a portion of the town-owned tannery property that borders the Megunticook River. In 2008, Camden voters had approved creating a 25-foot-wide easement on the tannery land, keeping it forever under the feet of the public. Last month, the town secured a $15,000 grant to plan and design the River to Harbor Walk connecting Shirttail Point Park to Camden Harbor.

    As the town and CEDAC pushed marketing the tannery site and its land for jobs concept, it placed an ad on Yahoo's financial website in 2010. B.D' Turman'd Entertainment LLC, whose principals were in Los Angeles and Milwaukee, responded, and pursued acquiring the land, proposing to construct there two sound stages to be used in film production. The deal, as crafted by the town and the LLC principals, became controversial, and LLC pulled out. Reasons for terminating a purchase and sales agreement were attributed to the overly constrictive land configuration, size, and restrictions affecting title that would make it impossible for the business to develop the studios, adequate parking, office facilities and river improvements.

    Since that flurry that ended in May 2011, the tannery lot has sat quiet, a sad picture of fencing, old pavement and scrubby grass.

     “North East approached the Town to consider selling the Tannery parcel to them for the future site of their administrative offices,” she said. “The Select Board discussed the letter of intent from North East and determined that North East would be a good fit for that site, would compliment the neighborhood,  and would meet the development guidelines for the Tannery site.”

    She said that among those requirements are ensuring the Riverwalk remains open to the public, retention of the street trees, and creating good paying jobs. 

    Last summer, North East took over the local ambulance contract for the four towns in a transition that marked the end of Camden First Aid.

    “One of the aspects of the site that appealed to North East was the Riverwalk,” Finnigan said. “They consider locating next to the Riverwalk to be a great amenity for their employees and it fit into North East’s mission of community wellness.  North East currently has approximately 30 employees in this area and will hiring more people.

    They will have a 90 day period to perform customary due diligence related to the property such as title search, zoning and land use review, property survey, building permit requirements, MDOT driveway and entrance permit review, and environmental contamination review.  Assuming their review is positive, North East intends to begin construction next spring.

    Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at; 207-706-6657