Letter to the editor

Cranesport LLC Tannery development not a viable project

Sun, 06/12/2022 - 10:00pm
So much of the recent debate over the Tannery Property has been commercial versus park. I think it’s time to look at the actual Cranesport proposal. However, this should be considered with the warning that you are not being asked to vote on the specific proposal. You are being asked to give the Select Board permission to negotiate a deal with Cranesport.
Even those of you that support the proposal have to recognize that you might not get the original plan even if Article 16 passes.
At its Jan. 18, 2022 meeting, the Select Board authorized Audra [Caler, Camden Town Manager] to negotiate a deal with Cranesport. That was six months ago and no deal.
That certainly doesn’t sound like two parties who have the same objective.
Michael Mullins has told me some of the intractable ideas of the town that make it almost impossible for a businessman to consider a deal. I believe him since it has been six months without a solution. So one must consider that there may be either no deal or a significantly altered plan from the original proposal.
Recent publicity by Mr Mullins is always accompanied by a pleasant photo of young bike riders in an environment that almost looks like a park. I urge you to go to Camden’s website, proceed to the Tannery section and look at the actual plan proposed by Cranesport.
It consists of 19 industrial buildings and a barn. Please give that some consideration, 20 industrial buildings on this three acre site.
Almost all the rest of the site is paved parking, even the designated farmers market area is a paved surface. So, all buildings and pavement, a density level even exceeding the old mills or tannery, and of course all will be impermeable.
Mr. Mullins calls these buildings “Maker Spaces” and entrepreneurial incubators. Building space does not create companies or inspire people to start businesses. Anyone who is inclined to do that is already doing it. I have started several businesses in my many decades. None of them started because some space was available. All makers start with an idea and a skill and little or no capital. They certainly don’t go out seeking the overhead expense of rental space until they have established an income stream. 
Mr. Mullins likes to point to his Cranesport space  as an example of his plans and ideas. I remember this building a few years ago surrounded by sort of wrecked cars and trailers. It has certainly had its exterior cleaned up.
A significant part of the building is taken up by a cooperative garage setup of car enthusiasts who probably have inadequate garage space for their projects. This is great, I have seen this with potters glass blowers and woodworkers. These folks are neither makers nor entrepreneurs.
A significant amount of the remaining space is used as a storage area for a charity operation for Syria. This is run locally by Allison McKellar, a Camden Select Board member.
Mr Mullins uses the rest of the space.
Apparently two of the car guys decided to start a business restoring cars. They are entrepreneurs, but they are not makers, they don’t make cars, they rebuild them. This shows the slow process of how one becomes either an entrepreneur or a maker.
Finding 19 of these people or operations locally is questionable  and at best would take years. Even Mr Mullins wants the town to agree to a five year buildout while the town wants two years.
Is this a viable project?
A while back Mr Mullins made the financial pro forma for this project available to a few of us. I don’t know why but I understand it is now on his website.
I have been in business all my adult life and I do not consider this a viable project. I believe the income projections are overblown and his own conclusion of the value of the project compared to the cost is not realistic. I can’t imagine him finding the financing he says the project requires.
Those of you interested can find this information and make your own analysis.
And what if it fails?
The workshops are apparently to be built on posts. That means they can be moved. Theoretically if approved this project is for a specific use. If it fails nothing else could be done with these 19 buildings and then what?
A bank takes over a property it can’t do anything with. Eventually it could go into tax forfeit and we become the proud owners of 19 workshops and a barn?
This is too important a piece of property for Camden to let go into private hands. There are far more imaginative ideas for our community.
Please vote no on articles 15 and 16.
Stephen Gold lives in Camden