Walmart scraps planned expansion that closed Falmouth cinema

August 2, 2013 in Articles

Author: J. Craig Anderson
Publication: Portland Press Herald

An attorney blames high construction costs, while a former town councilor expresses frustration that the town lost its only movie theater.

Walmart will not go ahead with a proposed store expansion in Falmouth that prompted the closing of an adjacent movie theater, a town official said.

An aerial view of the Falmouth business district, including Walmart, at upper right.

2012 Press Herald File Photo / Gabe Souza

Senior Town Planner Ethan Croce said he got a call this week from a Walmart attorney who said the Rogers, Ark.-based company has scrapped its plan to expand into the former Regal Cinemas, next to the Walmart in Falmouth Plaza on Route 1.

The attorney cited higher-than-expected construction costs as the reason, Croce said.

Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz confirmed that the company has decided not to move forward with the expansion, and that the reason is construction costs.

Wertz would not offer any additional details.

The town granted Walmart approval in November 2011 to convert its 92,000-square-foot store into a 124,000-square-foot Super Walmart by taking over the Regal Cinemas lease. The theater closed in April 2012 as a result.

Super Walmarts, which average just under 200,000 square feet nationwide, include grocery stores, pharmacies and garden centers, according to the company's website.

Falmouth passed an ordinance in the fall to limit the allowable footprint of big-box stores along Route 1 to 50,000 square feet, said former Town Councilor Bonny Rodden, who was involved in getting the limit passed.

A building's footprint is the square footage of its ground floor. The ordinance would not prevent a business from expanding beyond 50,000 square feet by adding floors, Croce said.

Because Walmart's expansion approval predates the passage of the footprint limit, the company was granted an exemption. The exemption will expire at the end of October if the company hasn't broken ground on the project.

Rodden said the aborted Walmart expansion wouldn't have been a problem if the town's only movie theater hadn't closed as a result.

"What's most frustrating to the residents of Falmouth is that they lost the theater thinking they were going to get a bigger Walmart," she said.

Home prices keep soaring

July 30, 2013 in Articles

Author: Chris Isidore
Publication: CNNMoney

Home prices continued to gain steam in May according to a closely-watched reading, even as mortgage rates climbed.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index was up 12.2% compared to a year ago, slightly better than the 12.1% rise in April. It was the biggest year-over-year jump in prices since March 2006, near the peak of the housing bubble.

Prices in two cities - Dallas and Denver - hit record highs, topping even the peaks they reached during the housing bubble.

However, the national index, which measures prices in the 20 largest markets, is still 24.4% below the peak of June 2006.

Just a year ago, the index posted a 12-month decline in prices. Sellers had been struggling while their homes languished on the market for months, or even years. But prices have increased every month since June 2012, and each month the increase has been greater than the month before.

The gain in home prices has now made this a good time to sell a home. Many sellers are finding themselves in the midst of bidding wars, with buyers eager to make a purchase in a market with a tight supply of houses available for sale. House hunters are also eager to lock in a mortgage while rates are still low, at least by historic standards.

The record low mortgage rates of earlier this year have risen significantly, crimping the purchasing power of potential home buyers. But climbing rates have yet to slow the rapid increase in home prices.

Additionally, prices are being boosted by a sharp drop in foreclosures, which had been holding prices down.

"Home prices continue to strengthen," says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. All 20 markets measured in the index have higher prices than they did in April. The housing market's recovery has been an important factor in the nation's overall economic improvement.

Home recovery spurs renovation boom

Many of the markets with the biggest year-over-year changes in prices are those that were hit hardest by housing's collapse. Prices in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta are all up more than 20% from a year ago. New York had the most modest rise with a 3.3% increase.

But the rapid price gains over the last year are at a level that no expert thinks can be sustained. Some have even suggested it was unhealthy for the market, raising the risk of a new housing bubble, at least in some regions. The rapid rise of housing prices in the middle of the decade eventually sparked the crisis in the financial markets and the Great Recession.

But Joseph LaVorgna, chief US economist for Deutsche Bank, said he believes prices still have room to increase further, even if their pace slows.

"Affordability remains near historic highs despite the recent rise in rates and home prices," he said. "And the increase in home prices should encourage banks to ease lending standards for mortgages, since the collateral for the underlying loan is appreciating in value."

Market Basket set to open in August

July 26, 2013 in Articles

Publication: MaineBiz

The Market Basket grocery store in Biddeford is on track to open in August, creating a new dynamic to the fierce competition that already exists in Maine for the food-purchasing dollars of grocery shoppers.

Non-perishable foods will be stocked on shelves later this week, with perishable items to be stocked just a day or two before the store opens, according to the Journal Tribune.

The state inspection is scheduled for Aug. 5, which the newspaper reported is one of the final steps before a new grocery store can open. When the new Biddeford store opens it will be the Massachusett's-based supermarket chain's first store in Maine and will bring the total of Market Basket stores to 72.

All the other stores are in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Portland finalizes two new leases for companies at Maine State Pier

July 22, 2013 in Articles

Author: Seth Koenig

Portland finalizes two new leases for companies at Maine State Pier

The Maine State Pier will soon be home to processor Shucks Maine Lobster, with whom the Portland City Council approved a 15-year lease this week. Fellow pier tenant Ready Seafood Co. also got a new lease from the council, more than doubling its size at the facility. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — The city of Portland this week finalized deals with two companies to expand on the Maine State Pier, steeply increasing business activity at a waterfront site still remembered for two massive development proposals that failed in recent years.

Lobster processing company Shucks Maine Lobster will set up shop on the pier, and current tenant Ready Seafood Co. will more than double its footprint at the site, after the Portland City Council on Monday unanimously approved new leases for both.

Shucks has agreed with the city to lease nearly 19,000 square feet in the former municipal transit shed on the pier, which has been largely vacant in recent history. Shucks, which is currently headquartered in Richmond, will have a 15-year lease in the Portland location starting in January 2014.

The processing firm will pay the city $202,100 for the space in its first year and face 2 percent annual increases each year of the lease thereafter.

John Hathaway, CEO of Shucks Maine Lobster, told the Bangor Daily News in June that the company would hire nine full-time and 60 part-time seasonal employees at its Portland location.. The company’s peak hiring season is from May until January, he said.

The cost to get the Portland facility up and running would be more than $2 million, including slightly more than $1 million to retrofit the space and another $1 million or so for the necessary equipment, Hathaway said.

Shucks currently employs between 65 and 70 mostly part-time seasonal workers at its current processing facility in Richmond, Hathaway said. The new Portland location would be in addition to its existing operations, Hathaway said.

Ready Seafood, a lobster wholesaler, since 2009 has occupied between 9,676 square feet and 11,200 square feet of the facility. With its latest lease agreement, the company will expand that operation to a total of approximately 24,000 square feet. The new lease will add $258,000 in annual rental payments to the city, above the nearly $120,000 the company had already been paying for its 11,200 square feet.

Like Shucks, Ready will face annual rent increases of 2 percent during the life of its lease, which has now been extended to Dec. 31, 2017.

The approximately 90-year-old, city-owned pier was the focus of two competing large-scale redevelopment proposals in 2007, with developers Ocean Properties and The Olympia Companies each pushing $100 million projects including hotels, office buildings and public space at the site. The city’s first choice to proceed, The Olympia Companies backed out after a dispute emerged over whether the city or state retained legal control over the submerged land underneath the pier.

By early 2009, Ocean Properties also walked away in the face of the burgeoning recession and resultant market drop-off.

During the city’s 15-candidate 2011 mayoral campaign, the lack of progress at the Maine State Pier was considered fertile ground for debate among candidates over the direction of the city moving forward.















Congress Square Negotiations Begin

July 16, 2013 in Articles

Author: Michael Sosnowski
Publication: Portland Maine Real Estate Blog

Congress Square Negotiations Begin

Posted by Michael Sosnowski

It wouldn’t be Portland if there wasn’t controversy!  The most current debate is around what to do with the Congress Square Plaza.  Rockbridge Capital, who purchased the Eastland Park hotel in 2011 and is currently in the final stages of a $40 million renovation, is trying to persuade city to sell two-thirds of the plaza.  If this is done, they will build a 9,400 sqft event center as part of the overall project.

The historic 86-year-old hotel is scheduled to reopen in December as the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.

Public discussion has been going on for months and several conceptual plans have been presented.  As expected (and typical) opposition groups have been vocal, and as a result various plans have been presented by the developers.

For a review of the plaza’s history and potential new design, you can download the report: Congress Square Plaza.

The most recent hurdle to be passed was a meeting of the City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee at the end of May.  In a 3-1 vote it was decided that the city should move forward with negotiations to sell the park property to Rockbridge Capital.

Prior to this decision, the task force assigned to find solutions to improving the plaza was deadlocked 6-6 as to whether to support the Rockbridge Capital plan.  This led to tweaks in the design and the subsequent HCDC meeting, public review and subsequent 3-1 vote.

Passion on All Sides:

Some comments on the plan, from those in attendance at HCDC meeting include:

  • “We need to improve the plaza, not privatize it….”
  • The new design was not “substantially different” from previous ones.
  • Repurposing the plaza as a true plaza .… does indeed net us less open space, but it unequivocally nets us better open space….
  • The event center would “enhance what is happening to Congress Square” …. the event center  proposal would be “a fantastic opportunity that will not happen again anytime soon.”
  • “The vast majority of Portlanders will not want to see this park go away….” (really?)
  • …. opposing it in favor of improving the existing plaza is the result of a “misconception,” because there are no plans to do so.

Next Steps

Following negotiations (assuming they are successful), a vote will be required by the Portland City Council to approve the sale.  There will still be ample time, however, for more debate – as expected.




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