Scarborough town officials are considering a proposed credit enhancement agreement to support the redevelopment of Scarborough Downs that would return as much as $75 million in property taxes to the developers over 30 years.
The developers say the financing is necessary to realize the town’s goal to turn the nearly 500-acre property into a long-desired village center as envisioned by special zoning that was drafted for the Downs in recent years.
A public forum on the proposal will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Downs. Representatives of the town and the developers will be present to answer questions.
“The Town Council’s goal is to fully inform the public and gauge public reaction before moving ahead,” council Chairman William Donovan said in a statement posted on the town’s website.
“If done right, this project has the potential to be the most important public-private partnership that Scarborough will ever entertain,” Donovan said. “Thus far, through council workshops and executive sessions, intense analysis, and lengthy negotiations over many months, the town has moved forward in deliberate fashion to this critical point.”
The Downs was purchased in January for $6.7 million by Crossroads Holdings LLC, a group of longtime Scarborough residents consisting of Rocco, William and Marc Risbara, owners of Risbara Bros. Construction, and Peter and Richard Michaud, former owners of Michaud Distributors, a Northeast regional snack delivery company.
Located off Route 1 and Exit 42 of the Maine Turnpike, the Downs continues to host seasonal harness racing, but the business has struggled for more than a decade. The previous owners entertained more than a dozen interested buyers before Crossroads Holdings clinched the sale.
The Downs project calls for making $265 million in improvements that would be worth at least $615 million in assessed value within 20 years, according to the credit enhancement proposal. The total build-out would include $396 million in housing, $143 million in commercial space and $75 million in industrial space.
An initial $150 million would go toward developing the site for a mix of residential, commercial and recreational uses, as well as installing the road, utility and stormwater infrastructure to make it possible to create a “downtown,” according to related documents on the town’s website.
“The property will be developed, one way or the other,” said Rocco Risbara. “But for us to optimize the development to meet the goals of the town, we need the town as a partner.”
Under the proposed credit enhancement agreement, the town would establish a tax increment financing district, or TIF, that encompasses the Downs, according to documents posted on the town’s website.
In the first 20 years, the developers would have to complete certain aspects of the project to be reimbursed 40 percent of property taxes collected annually in the district, with a maximum $55 million reimbursement during that period. The town would reimburse 25 percent of TIF revenues if the developers didn’t meet the performance standards for a full build-out within 20 years.
From the 21st year through the 30th year, the developers could receive as a bonus 10 percent of TIF revenues, with a maximum annual reimbursement of $2 million, if they achieve the “desired development” within 20 years, including 1.2 million square feet of nonresidential space.
As proposed, the redeveloped Downs would add 1,986 housing units (23 percent) to the town’s 8,508 current housing units, 3,634 residents (18 percent) to the town’s 20,023 current population, and 347 kids (12 percent) to the 2,929 school-age children living in Scarborough now.
The Downs also would create 2,400 to 3,350 jobs, about 1.2 million square feet of commercial space, about 800,000 square feet of industrial space and 8 miles of new roads.
A citizens’ group, Scarborough Maine Advocates for Reasonable Taxes, issued a statement questioning the impact that a credit enhancement agreement would have on taxpayers. Its members believe the town should hold a referendum or advisory vote before approving any tax break for the developers.
“This will be the largest financial commitment the town has ever made,” the group said. “It has the potential to radically change the town’s character. All residents deserve a direct voice in a decision as momentous as this.”