Apr. 13—Biddeford will use a $1.2 million federal grant to help turn the site of a former trash incinerator into a mixed-use riverfront district.
The city received the grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration's Public Works program to construct roadway and make utility improvements on Pearl Street, where Biddeford's first parking garage is being built. The short road extends from Elm Street to the edge of the Saco River and runs through the heart of the historic mill district where current and planned projects are adding hundreds of residential units, space for new businesses and the parking garage.
City officials say the road project will improve access and promote further economic growth and development to the area. The design of the reconstructed road will allow for the street to be closed to create an open gathering space, according to city officials. Developers with current and planned projects in the area say the work will create a more pedestrian-friendly and accessible area that will include apartments, restaurants, breweries and offices.
"The project that city staff put together is another important piece in the puzzle of the ongoing redevelopment of the mill and downtown districts," Mayor Alan Casavant said.
The Pearl Street project will improve access to both existing buildings and planned development surrounding the parking garage. Developers and city officials envision the redeveloped area as a vibrant, urban-style mixed use Pearl Street Riverfront District.
The city has entered into a Master Plan agreement with BE Fitler LLC, which will develop the city-owned property on either side of the parking garage. It will include a mix of residential, retail, office, hospitality and education uses. City officials say that project will increase Biddeford's job base by adding as many as 645 new jobs.
Jim Brady and Brian Eng, the development team behind BE Fitler LLC, said they are "thrilled" the EDA is supporting the vision for the Pearl Street Riverfront District.
"These funds will catalyze our collective effort to create Maine's most walkable, transit-oriented 24-hour complete neighborhood," Brady and Eng said in a statement. "Residents and visitors to Downtown Biddeford will be able to live, work and play in the vibrant, thoughtfully-designed Pearl Street Riverfront District.
The Riverdam Mill at the end of Pearl Street will see improved access after the road is upgraded, according to city officials. When phased renovations are complete, the Riverdam complex will include four commercial spaces and 71 apartments. Seven of those apartment units will be rented at workforce housing rates.
"An improved Pearl Street is critical to unlock a fabulous piece of Biddeford's downtown river frontage that has been underutilized for many years," said John Lalibert of Port Property Management, which is also owned by Riverdam Mill owner Tom Watson.
Lalibert said in a statement that the road improvements are important to the long-term success of the Riverdam mixed-use project, which is located next to the Saco River at the end of Pearl Street. Riverdam will benefit from the "synergy" created by the new Pearl Street district, he said.
The parking garage has been in the works for years and early discussions generated contentious debate about the need for the garage and how it would be paid for. The garage is the first development on the Lincoln Street property that was once the site of the Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator. The city purchased the property in 2012 for $6.65 million, a move that sparked more interest in Biddeford's downtown revitalization and led to hundreds of millions of dollars in new projects.
The city partnered with Treadwell, an infrastructure development firm based in Yarmouth, to finance the $22 million parking garage project, which will be paid for using parking revenue and will not impact the tax rate. The 640-spot garage is expected to open by July.
The EDA Public Works grant will cover half of the total cost for the Pearl Street project. The majority of the remaining cost will be covered by Tax Increment Financing funding and from paving and Combined Sewer Overflow funds.
The project will reconstruct about 900 linear feet of Pearl Street from the intersection with Lincoln Street to the Saco River and Biddeford Riverwalk. It will include traffic calming bump outs, parallel parking space, sidewalks, storm drainage, underground conduit for utilities, and the upgrade of 465 linear feet of sewer lines.