OOB project hinges on obtaining air rights

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OLD ORCHARD BEACH (AP) – A plan to build a $50 million hotel in this summer tourist haven could rise or fall on whether the developer obtains air rights from the railroad whose tracks run through the site.

Tim Swenson wants to build the 100-room hotel and a 450-car parking garage that would rise nine stories above the 350 feet or so of train tracks that parallel West Grand Avenue. Included in the project is a tunnel to allow trains to pass through.

Town Councilor Jim Long said that if Swenson is successful, his project could pave the way for more construction in the downtown, where the Guilford Rail tracks that bisect the town have long been an obstacle to development.

“It’s a model that could be applied over and over in Old Orchard Beach,” Long said.

Swenson is already working on a major project across the street. His Grand Victorian, a 51-unit condominium and retail complex, is scheduled to be completed early next year.

Swenson and town officials have been in discussions with Guilford Rail about air rights for the past two months. Swenson said Guilford officials have acknowledged that the project is technically feasible, and talks have focused on a price for the air rights.

“Guilford could make or break the project,” Swenson said.

The railroad did not return calls seeking comment.

A challenge during construction would be avoiding interruptions to train traffic, said Town Manager Jim Thomas, who has participated in the talks with Guilford. He said 18 trains a day run along the tracks and Guilford has insisted that it does not want any breaks in service.

Swenson, a graduate of Old Orchard Beach High School, said the project, along with the $20 million Grand Victorian, would help turn his hometown into more of a year-round destination.

Sam Harrisburg, who owns property in the downtown, welcomed Swenson’s plan to work with local business owners to create new street-level retail space and build above it.

“The season is only two months right now,” he said. “It’d be nice to have year-round business down here.”

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