BRUNSWICK — A Topsham developer last week said previously cool relationships among town, state and redevelopment officials regarding the former Brunswick Naval Air Station seem to have thawed, prompting him to proceed with plans for another $27 million in development at Brunswick Landing, and several other projects at Cooks Corner.
Jim Howard of Priority Real Estate Group said he plans to purchase six parcels along Bath Road and Fitch Avenue – the main road on the former Navy base – to house “some food services, a financial institution, an office building, and a mixed-use office building with warehouse loading dock space,” among other uses.
He also hopes to build a convenience store offering sandwiches, conventional fuel and perhaps the state’s first compressed natural gas fueling station.
Howard’s March 20 announcement comes less than three weeks after he confirmed he would buy the Navy lodge and adjoining recreation building for $1.1 million, for use by Bath’s Merrymeeting Center for Child Development, and just one week after the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority announced that former EnvisioNet CEO Heather Blease would open a call center on the former Navy base.
The MRRA also recently announced it would sell buildings to Seeds of Independence, a program for at-risk youth, and the Mid-Coast Veteran’s Council, for a veterans service center. In addition, the agency will lease property to “waste-to-energy” company Village Green Ventures.
Having cleared the MRRA property committee, though, Howard’s plans only await approval next week by the full MRRA board of directors.
Howard said he worked with state, local and redevelopment officials trying to move his projects forward, and eventually found, “We haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to projects out at the (former) base because there was so much tension between those parties. And there was a public perception that it was too difficult to get things done.”
But after the town increased the threshhold at which a new building required planning board review, Howard said, “I’ve gotta tell you, we’re finding of late is that those groups have been working pretty well together.”
So well, he said, that “We’ve got a lot planned for Brunswick Landing … as long as the town, state and MRRA board continue to get along as well as I believe they’re getting along, we’ll continue forward with our projects.”
Other developers are working on projects at the former Navy base. Most notably, George Schott, owner of some 700 units of former Navy housing in Topsham and Brunswick, plans to buy the former 248-room Navy hotel and bachelors apartments, MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said.
“This is exactly what we hoped would happen,” Levesque said. “It’s always been our goal to try to get this property turned over to the private sector as quickly as we possibly could and let them do their thing.”
Schott hopes to purchase four additional parcels, in addition to the former Navy hotel and barracks, for which the MRRA board has already approved a purchase and sale agreement, Levesque said.
Schott declined to comment for this story.
The new development isn’t limited to Brunswick Landing, however. Howard said he also has plans for other areas in east Brunswick, where in February he opened the 20,000-square-foot CoastalOrtho building, a $4.5 million project on Thomas Point Road.
Howard and Town Manager Gary Brown said they continue to work on a municipal tax-increment financing agreement that would use taxes to pay for a new connector road from Gurnet Road-Route 24 to Thomas Point Road, and then from Thomas Point Road to Walmart.
“We determined that the taxes on the building would offset the cost to build the road,” Brown said. “The town more than breaks even. It also will help with the traffic flow at the Cooks Corner area.”
“If we’re able to do that and provide better access to the properties, I have acquired properties all along Thomas Point Road and (adjacent to) Walmart, and we’re looking at up to a 40,000-square-foot medical building,” Howard said.
Preliminary plans provided by Howard show the potential for up to four additional buildings in the area.
In addition, Howard said he agreed to donate about $500,000 worth of property to the group Community Ice, which hopes to build a new ice rink on Thomas Point Road.
“This is all part of the revitalization of Cooks Corner,” Howard said. “Currently (there are) 125,000 square feet of vacant (retail space) at Cooks Corner. We’re not bringing more retail in. We have plenty of space for more retail. We’re bringing in good, high-paying jobs, and a lot of people, who can then be customers of businesses that are at Cooks Corner. That’s one of the keys to getting Brunswick Landing redeveloped.”
Another key? The news that Five Guys Burgers and Fries – which recently opened in Bangor and has been open in Portland – is due to open another franchise soon at the former Friendly’s on Bath Road, tucked between the entrance to Brunswick Landing and the Cooks Corner Shopping Center.
The company has applied for a building permit, Director of Planning and Development Anna Breinich said, and the Five Guys Facebook page trumpets “Coming Soon!”