CAMDEN — The Tannery workshop of the Camden Select Board, which had been postponed Feb. 2, is now to be held Feb. 16, 6 p.m.
Each of the four developers who have submitted development proposals for Tannery Park, on Washington Street, in Camden, will have up to 15 minutes each on Tuesday evening to present how the 3.5 acres will look, and perform economically, after their particular plan will be executed.
The presenters are the four who submitted Tannery Park redevelopment plans after the Town of Camden circulated a request for proposals last autumn.
Camden invited RFPs following more than a decade of grappling with property abandoned by a former tannery factory and acquired by a tax lien. It is collecting all proposals and information relating to the RFPs on this municipal web page.
Proposals range from building a earning/entrepreneurial center to affordable and workforce housing, and creating a community space and park.
An analysis and evaluation of the proposals by Camden's Community and Economic Development Committee (CEDAC) is available here: CEDAC Report on Review of Tannery Proposals.
Information on the impact of each proposal on the Town's tax assessed value and likely property tax revenue can be found here: Memo from Camden Assessor on Taxable Value Estimations and Analysis of Taxable Value by Proposal.
There will be a 15-20 minute question and answer session with the Select Board and town staff.
The Town Office encourages public comments/questions to be submitted during the meeting: “but please understand that, due to time restrictions, questions may not be answered during the meeting. We will endeavor to answer FAQs subsequent to the meeting.”
History of the tannery site, since 2003
“We have been talking about the tannery for years,” said Peter Gross, chairman of the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee, 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.
He said that at a 2012 Select Board meeting when the town decided to engage someone to actively sell the property.
“It was the initial issue CEDAC took up when it [the municipal committee] was created,” he said, speaking to the Camden Select Board Monday evening, Nov. 27, 2012. “The downturn in the economy did not help marketing efforts.”
The Apollo Tannery, at 116 Washington Street, had closed its tanning business in 1999, following a fire and financial problems.
In 2003, Camden acquired it in a lien foreclosure. At the 2011 Camden Town Meeting, it was characterized by one resident as “Camden Follies, Act II.”
But Camden voters agreed to invest close to $1 million to clean up it. The town demolished the decrepit buildings, removed some contaminated soil and capoed more, hoping the vacant lot would eventually provide the community with a source of enterprise and employment.
For a brief period in 2006, a Florida-based investor offered to purchase the lot for $100,000 (a deal that was terminated).
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 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 to 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.
While those efforts were under way, a group of Camden residents also began working on the Camden Riverwalk, a pathway alongside 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, for a walkway.
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.
Renewed interest in the parcel arose in 2014 when North East Mobile Health Services indicated interest in part of the parcel. But Aug. 26, 2014, the ambulance service announced that it was backing out of talks with Camden.
In 2014, in a close nonbinding November vote, Camden residents indicated they wanted the Tannery land to be used for commercial/business purposes. The question on the ballot was: “Do you support using the Tannery property for commercial/business uses described in the Guiding Principles approved by the Town Meeting, or do you support using the Tannery property for park/open space?”
1,429 said they wanted it kept for commercial/business use
1,360 said they wanted it used as park/open space
Those guiding principles were approved in June 2008 at Town Meeting.
Following the 2014 nonbinding referendum, the Select Board created the Tannery Work Group "to lead an inclusive, community-wide dialog to determine the preferred uses of the site."
The group was finalize objectives, rank preferences for concepts on the table, and plan for how to include the town in the discussion.
For 18 months, the Group worked, under the leadership of former town manager Roger Moody, and on March 21, 2017, the group presented its final recommendations and recommended the town pursue a federal brownfield grant to help refine the site.