Scarborough Downs site for Amazon’s second headquarters? It’s a long shot

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Clouds are reflected in the grandstand windows at Scarborough Downs last year. Town officials are proposing the racetrack site as a contender for Amazon’s new facility, which would eventually employ as many as 50,000 people 

Amazon Corp. is looking for a place to put a second headquarters, and the town of Scarborough is getting into the race.

The town plans to submit the Scarborough Downs racetrack site as a contender for the Seattle-based retail giant’s new facility, which would eventually employ up to 50,000 people.

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A town official acknowledged that even with the property’s new buyer on board, Scarborough Downs is an extreme long shot.

“Other (cities and towns vying for the headquarters) have coordinated with state governments on tax incentives,” said Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall. “We don’t have any of that.”

Maine Department of Economic and Community Development spokesman Douglas Ray said he wasn’t aware of Scarborough officials approaching the department to discuss the possibility of including tax incentives in the town’s proposal. However, Ray said Amazon could possibly qualify for certain incentives such as employment tax increment financing, which reimburses a portion of state withholding taxes paid by businesses.

Scarborough isn’t the only Maine locale attracted by the $5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs Amazon says it will bring over the next 10 to 15 years to whichever North American region it chooses to build a second headquarters. The average annual compensation for each of those jobs, including benefits, would exceed $100,000, the company said.

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“I think there is an opportunity here. We have some good matches for Amazon,” Levesque said Wednesday night, mentioning the former air station’s suitability for developing drones.

DOWNS SITE MEETS ALL REQUIREMENTS

The 483-acre Scarborough Downs site meets all of the major requirements listed by Amazon in its request for proposals, Hall said. However, it is lacking in a number of the company’s listed preferences, such as having the headquarters located in a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people.

Another major hurdle for Scarborough is the area’s relatively limited employment pool. Hall said it’s an open question where the 50,000 workers would come from, but he noted the company plans to ramp up the workforce at its second headquarters over a number of years.

He said there is an ample supply of land in and around Scarborough that could be used to build homes to accommodate those future workers.

“This is one of those things where if you build it, they will come,” he said.

Proposals for the Amazon headquarters site are due Thursday and are expected to come from a wide variety of U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City already have confirmed they are submitting bids.

Scarborough Downs, one of Maine’s two remaining permanent harness racing venues, has struggled in recent years because of dwindling profits and attendance, increasing competition from casinos and online gambling, crumbling facilities that have drawn recent scrutiny from government officials, and continuing controversy with horse owners and trainers.

The Downs opened in 1950 as the state’s first thoroughbred horse racing track. Spokesman Michael Sweeney said the racetrack is currently offering live harness racing on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 10. Sweeney said the racetrack plans to shut down for the winter months and reopen in March.

The 67-year-old racetrack has been for sale since November, and as of March was under contract to be purchased by a Massachusetts developer who specializes in distressed properties and mixed-use projects.

The developer, Thom Powers of Cohasset, was leading a group of investors from the Boston area and Maine who were interested in redeveloping the tract in the center of town for residential, commercial and recreational uses. They formed a company called Scarborough Downs Development LLC in anticipation of purchasing the site.

‘GREAT DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITY’

Sweeney referred all questions about the status of the racetrack, which has been on the market for years, to Edward MacColl, the attorney for the racetrack’s owner, Davric Maine Corp. Davric is named after the racetrack’s former owners, Gerald Davidson and Joseph Ricci, who are both deceased.

MacColl declined to comment on whether the racetrack is under contract to be sold.

“These are private matters,” MacColl said. If Scarborough Downs is sold, the corporation will make that news public, he said.

Denise Terry, vice president of finance at Scarborough Downs, said she has not spoken to the town about offering the racetrack as a location for Amazon headquarters. Terry, contacted Wednesday evening, declined to speak about the potential sale of the property.

However, Hall, the town manager, said the property is under contract to be purchased by a Maine-based company called Crossroads Holdings LLC. He would not name the investors involved, but said they are in favor of the Amazon headquarters proposal.

In recent discussions with Scarborough residents about the future of the struggling racetrack, Hall said most supported the idea of redeveloping the property. He noted that those discussions did not specifically involve Amazon’s request for proposals.

“There was an almost universal opinion among our residents that there’s a great development opportunity there,” Hall said.

Even if Amazon doesn’t choose Scarborough’s proposal out of the many dozens it is likely to receive, the process of putting it together has been educational for local officials, Hall said.

“We believe that we’ll benefit from the experience,” he said.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2017 to clarify the Amazon job compensation as an average annual amount.

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