m-brunmainestreetstation-013009 Maine Street Station still looking for inn investor (drop) Town reapplies for $850k from feds
BRUNSWICK — As work slogs along at Maine Street Station, the developer is still searching for an investor for a proposed 60-room inn at the $23 million project.
The inn, a lightning rod for some residents opposed to the entire project, is included in the proposed second phase of the development. Maine Street Station project manager Mike Lyne, of JHR Development, said this week that his firm has been in contact with an organization interested in managing the inn, but that JHR is still searching for an investor.
Despite the absence of a financial partner, Lyne is still hopeful the inn and the remaining buildings included in the second phase will be ready for Planning Board review in the spring.
"We haven't really been focusing on the inn," he said. "At the same time it's not as if people have been breaking down our door to talk about it, either. ... We're confident we'll get interest. We've got a really good site and a phenomenal plan. Maybe it takes a little longer, but we'll get there."
Meanwhile, the town, as the other investor in the multi-use development, has been forced to reapply for a key $850,000 grant it hopes will help fund infrastructure and coal-ash remediation at the 5-acre site.
The grant from the federal Economic Development Administration has been a stumbling block ever since the town first applied for it over two years ago. Since then town officials have reassured residents the EDA funds are forthcoming, and that the delay is attributed to organizational changes and bureaucratic red tape at the federal agency.
Amanda Similien, of the town's Economic and Community Development office, said this week that the town was asked to reapply so construction could begin at Maine Street Station. Terms of the EDA grant dictate what construction can occur at the project.
For that reason the delay has been frustrating – and potentially costly – for both parties.
JHR has not disclosed financing terms for the project, but Lyne has indicated that financing is contingent on getting the first three buildings up and running by summer.
"It's been a juggling act," Similien said. "The (EDA) staff is completely different. ... The reorganization slowed everything down."
"It's discouraging that they're not moving fast enough," she added. "We're trying to maintain contact with them every week."
Not only is the town counting on the EDA grant to help offset its $2 million commitment to the project, but also to insure that its infrastructure costs don't climb higher than the $3.1 million former Economic Development Director Mat Eddy projected last September. The price to remediate coal ash and install streets, sidewalks and utilities was originally estimated at $2.2 million.
Similien said those costs could creep higher if EDA funding doesn't come through and construction stops. She said the goal is to not demobilize Crooker & Sons, the contractor doing remediation and road work.
"At some point we can't wait around for (EDA)," Lyne said. "There's serious trenching to do with the infrastructure. ... If you mobilize (Crooker's crew) twice, you get hit twice with the bill."
"The town has jumped through hoops to give (EDA) everything they need," he added. "They've been given a lot of positive assurances, but nothing moves quickly enough for any of us right now."
Similien remained hopeful that pressure from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, would coax EDA to process the town's new application.
"There's enough interest, pressure and desire by the various parties to get this done," Similien said.
JHR is also hopeful the state's congressional delegation will also support the extension of federal funding for the Amtrak Downeaster.
The Downeaster has been billed as part of the nexus of the multi-modal development. However, the Downeaster's funding from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, which accounts for 80 percent of the passenger train's operational budget, is slated to end Sept. 30.
In addition, Gov. John Baldacci has not included Downeaster funding in his proposed biennial budget.
Nonetheless, Lyne is confident the Downeaster service will eventually include a stop at Maine Street Station.
"I think (Baldacci) is completely committed to the Downeaster service," Lyne said. "I also think (President Barack Obama's) administration is committed to passenger rail."
Lyne also confirmed JHR has changed the project's on-site architects to Gawron Turgeon Architects, of Scarborough. The firm has a wide-ranging portfolio, including renovations to the Black Point Inn in Scarborough and the Portland Regency Hotel.
Lyne said Arrowstreet Architects of Somerville, Mass., the firm that introduced JHR to Maine Street Station and the creator of its master plan, will serve in an advisory role.
The change has generated concerns that JHR was slashing design costs, but Lyne said working with a local firm made it easier to coordinate work.
"It's not atypical for one firm to oversee the master plan and for another to take over," he said.