Despite high-profile vacancies, Falmouth commercial space in short supply

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FALMOUTH — From almost the moment a Portland sports pub’s expansion into town was proposed, opponents have said they have no problem with the restaurant, just the location.

They have suggested there are vacant commercial buildings that would be better homes for Rivalries than a parking-challenged corner lot off Clearwater Drive, near the entrance to the Tidewater Village mixed-use development.

But aside from the most obvious examples of the long-empty former Shaw’s Supermarkets building and more-recently vacated Regal Cinema, is there really much commercial space available in town?

Apparently not.

A study last year found there was virtually no availability of the most desirable Class A commercial space, which typically provides occupants with the most amenities. There was more availability of less-desirable Class B space. 

The study was done by Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, New York, which was hired by the town to help draft an economic development plan.

Rachel Selsky, a senior economic development specialist in Camoin’s Brattleboro, Vermont, office, said Falmouth’s shortage of Class A commercial space is “unusual” for the area. She said given the economic slowdown of past years, most other areas Camoin has studied have had much more commercial space available.

“There was a building boom of office space for a while there throughout the country, and as the recession hit and the economy slowed down, a lot of that office space is now vacant, and they’re having some difficulty filling it. So it’s rather unusual for Falmouth to have nearly zero Class A vacancy,” Selsky said.

The study found the Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth submarket has 653,000 square feet of Class A office space and 257,800 square feet of Class B office space. Class A buildings usually have rents above the market average; Class B appeals to a wider range of users, with average rents. There is also a third classification, Class C, which is aimed at tenants requiring rent below market price that was not part of the study.

According to the study, the Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth submarket has 26 Class A buildings, with a 2 percent vacancy rating, representing 1 percent of all the vacant space surveyed. There are 17 Class B buildings, with a 15 percent vacancy rate, which equals 4 percent of all vacant space.

The Camoin study found the largest collection of office space in the area is in downtown Portland, which has just under 40 percent of the share, followed by the Maine Mall area in South Portland with 17 percent, and suburban Portland with 16 percent.

The Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth submarket has less than 10 percent of the total market space in greater Portland. Not surprisingly, downtown Portland also has the largest percentage of total vacant space.

The average cost per square foot in the area is $13.50, with retail space costing more than office space.

While Falmouth’s vacancy rate is low, Selsky said there are still some opportunities that exist.

“Certainly there were some key commercial real estate properties in the town that could be redeveloped and I think that would have a really nice impact on the town overall,” she said.

Camoin’s analysis was based on research by industry analysts at CB Richard Ellis, and property searches from local real estate companies Malone Commercial Brokers and the Dunham Group.

Selsky said said they looked at real estate reports both locally and regionally to get an understanding of commercial vacancy rates.

The town’s director of long-range planning, Theo Holtwijk, said Falmouth does not independently track vacancy rates.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Despite signs seeking a tenant, the old Shaw’s Supermarket building in the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1 has been vacant for more than a decade.

The former Shaw’s space has been empty ever since the supermarket moved to a larger Falmouth Shopping Center storefront vacated by Ames in 2002.

Available commercial space off of Clearwater Drive in Falmouth’s Tidewater Village has also remained vacant, to the point that developers are seeking a reduction in the amount of retail space set aside on undeveloped lots.

Regal Cinemas closed a 10-screen Falmouth theater in spring of 2012. Wal-Mart was expected to expand into the space, but plans fell through in 2013 and the Falmouth Plaza space on Route 1 remains vacant.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.