New owners propose ambitious expansion of Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1

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FALMOUTH — Developers who recently purchased the Falmouth Shopping Center hope to expand the plaza with a hotel, sports complex, housing, offices and several mixed-use buildings.

Jonathan Cohen and Joseph Soley, who purchased the Route 1 property in mid-March for $21 million, are now proposing a master plan that would create more than 400,000 square feet of new development on about 40 acres along Route 1 near Bucknam Road.

The Town Council will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 4, to get its first comprehensive look at the proposal.

On Friday, Cohen declined to release the cost of the project, which would be built in phases. “Our goal is to present the master plan, hopefully get it approved and then announce each (new tenant) as they come along,” he said.

While there are not many specifics available about possible future tenants, the Seacoast United Sports Club, which now operates in Topsham and Brewer, announced Friday afternoon that it would be among the first to move into the new mixed-use development, to be called Falmouth Center.

“Seacoast United is an ideal anchor for what will become Falmouth’s most exciting address,” the company said in a press release. “SUSC operates full-year teams and developmental programs in soccer, baseball, field hockey, softball and lacrosse with facilities throughout New Hampshire, Maine, and northeast Massachusetts.”

To accommodate Seacoast United, the developers will build two outdoor, artificial turf fields, as well as an indoor artificial turf field facility, according to the proposed master plan.

The ultimate goal, Cohen said, is to create a “lifestyle center (that includes) destination-driven activities. These types of centers are being built in other places around the country and are replacing the old-style strip malls.”

In all, the plan is to add 21 buildings to the existing shopping center over the next seven years.

To do that, the developers will utilize 29 acres of undeveloped land that is part of the existing Falmouth Shopping Center, as well as about 11 acres of state-owned land abutting the Maine Turnpike Spur further north on Route 1.

The town and the Maine Department of Transportation two years ago announced what they called a “unique partnership” that would give the land at the eastern end of the spur to a developer who would remove the turnpike overpass and ramps and create a grade-level intersection on Route 1.

Town Manager Nathan Poore on Friday said any master plan approved for the new Falmouth Center would have to include MDOT. Details of  the land swap are yet to be worked out, he said.

“Encompassing the existing Falmouth Shopping Center and adjacent property to the north, the Falmouth Center will be the first of its kind in Maine,” the developers said on a newly created website, which outlines the basic project details.

“The plan includes a mixture of uses, including retail, dining, recreation, residential living, hotel and office space in a village-like setting,” the website says. “Falmouth Center (will) be transformed into an active lifestyle center while still maintaining the unique character of Falmouth.”

But, Cohen said, “As a Falmouth resident myself, my goal is not to put a strain on (municipal or school services). I hope to get a positive reaction from everyone because (this project) hits every box of what people have said they’ve been wanting to see in town for the past 20 years.”

Although the main goal of Monday’s meeting is to “get the project in front of the public as soon as possible,” Poore said, no public comment will be allowed.

“We want to put people on notice” about the proposal, Poore said, but the meeting is to “let people absorb the details and come learn more about it and then to set up robust public comment opportunities afterward.”

Poore said people should understand that the development proposal is in its “first iteration” and once the council and developers “get initial public comment, there will be (room for) further negotiations and fine-tuning.”

The project, according to the Falmouth Center website, “will feature sports and fitness facilities, walking trails and a walking promenade, restaurants (with) outside dining, brew pubs, entertainment venues, small retail stores, office and medical space, a pet-friendly atmosphere, a village green, housing for ages 55 and over, hotels and all associated amenities of a first-class mixed-use development.”

Cohen said not all the housing included in the project would be limited to people 55 and older, although any additional residential units would all be studios or one-bedrooms.

When purchasing the Falmouth Shopping Center, Cohen said, he didn’t necessarily have in mind what is now being proposed. “I look for opportunities of all different types and when I see something I like, I’ll do it,” he said.

Cohen also said a continuing attempt to evict Ocean State Job Lot from the shopping center “has zero impact (on the proposed new development). That’s purely a legal matter related to the lease and is something for the court to decide.”

The discount retailer moved into long-empty space at the plaza last fall and was also instrumental in bringing in a new Planet Fitness gym. An eviction hearing was scheduled for May 24, but has now been postponed to late June, an Ocean State spokesman said this week.

Poore said Falmouth Center does not require a contract zone, but the council will likely be asked to extend the Village Commercial 1 zone to include the entire development parcel.

He said right now there is “no set plan for how the town will address this proposal,” but did mention the possibility of tax increment financing to assist with any related capital infrastructure costs.

Poore also said the council would likely “still rely heavily on the Planning Board to provide site plan and master planning review.”

In addition to all of the required public hearings, he said, “I’m very confident there will be extra public forums (as we move forward), and plenty of opportunity for the public to weigh in.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

A master plan for more than 400,000 square feet of new development along Route 1 will be presented to the Falmouth Town Council during a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, June 4. The proposal includes residences, mixed-use buildings, a hotel and a sports complex.

Much more development could be added to the area near the intersection of Route 1 and Bucknam Road in Falmouth if a master plan for the proposed Falmouth Center is approved.

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