Retail plan plods along

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LEWISTON – One of the retail projects pitched for Exit 80 needs to clear two more municipal hurdles before its developer has a firm blueprint in hand.

And that means summer will be the earliest people hear what could open there.

“We have very good interest in the site from a number of tenants. But nothing has been nailed down because the site plan is still in the works,” said Patrick Cleary, vice president of development for Hecht Co., the Massachusetts company developing the parcel. “It’s most likely this summer before we make an announcement.”

About 34 acres of the 65-acre South Park development is expected to come before the Planning Board May 22 to change several lot lines. Hecht is seeking the changes for more flexibility in dividing up the land for retail tenants.

For instance, many big-box retailers need a minimum of 20 acres to allow for a building and parking, and none of the parcels within South Park now are bigger than eight acres.

Cleary said it’s possible that the eventual tenants could be a mix of specialty, discount and niche retailers, all of whom have different space requirements.

“We’ve been looking around at a number of layouts and configurations,” said Cleary. “Whether we have some small boxes in an L-shape, or bigger boxes at the back of the sites … it’s really still in flux.”

If the Planning Board approves the lot changes, the next step for the project will be development review. At that stage, planners will look at a proposed footprint of buildings and assess whether there’s adequate parking, wetland management, traffic systems, etc.

“I don’t anticipate any issues, we just need to get through (the regulatory process),” said Lincoln Jeffers, the city’s development chief.

Nothing has been submitted to the city for the retail project next to Hecht’s, a 40-acre parcel under development by KGI Properties, another Massachusetts-based developer. A call seeking comment from the developer wasn’t returned by deadline.

City officials had hoped to have announcements about new stores opening by now, but the process is going slower than expected. The dual retail developments were announced in September.

Jeffers said shopping centers are often plagued by delays, as brokers and developers compete for prospective tenants. But once a major anchor tenant is announced, other stores will quickly follow suit.

“Once this one goes, and (South Park) becomes a retail center, everything else will build from that,” he said. “It’s getting that first one out of the gate that’s the trick.”

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