PORTLAND — Broker Kevin Fletcher had the 120,000-square-foot former Cascade Auburn Fiber on the market for two weeks before it went under contract. He sees the activity on Center Street in Auburn and in downtown Lewiston and he hears rumors — good ones — about behind-the-scene progress on Bates Mill No. 5.

He told a sold-out crowd of more than 700 people at the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s annual forecast at the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Thursday morning that all of that makes him believe Lewiston-Auburn is coming off a strong 2016 with a strong 2017 to come.

Fletcher, who works at Malone Commercial Brokers, delivered MEREDA’s central Maine forecast, focusing on Lewiston-Auburn.

“I’m really excited to talk to you about the Riverfront Island Master Plan in Lewiston,” he said. “There’s been some great things accomplished there.” 

He highlighted the new Maple Way Dental, Rinck Advertising’s recent move and 63 apartments coming to the new Hartley Block project.

“I think you’re going to see some owner-occupied’s buying down there and I dare say we may even see some more ground-up development,” said Fletcher. “Rumor has it two letters of intent are already in place from two key tenants (for the Bates Mill No. 5 project), which will undoubtedly create the start of that $60 million project.”

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Justin Lamontagne from NAI The Dunham Group delivered the southern Maine industrial forecast. He said Greater Portland has turned into “an extremely seller- and landlord-friendly market” with vacancy rates for industrial space at 2.3 percent.

“This space crunch, it needs to be addressed,” he said. “Agren Appliance, great company, family-owned, I’ve been working with Jason (Agren) for 10 months to find a distribution center somewhere in Greater Portland. If anybody has any ideas, please let me know.”

He listed Messer Petroleum, 207 Taxi, Green Kitchen Design and Connectivity Point as all in need of space.

“Pete (from Bissell Brothers Brewing Co.) called me up,” Lamontagne said. “He wanted 3,000 square feet of storage space just for some cans and some kegs, really simple use. It took three months and it took a little bit of luck. All of these folks are local, growing — they want to grow — and are challenged by just the lack of inventory right now. The message to them is when the opportunity comes, you jump.”

He said open industrial space has seen a lot of interest from marijuana growers.

“We’re estimating between 300,000 and 350,000 square feet of industrial-style space was leased statewide specific to this use (in 2016),” he said. That’s between $15 million and $20 million in leases and sales.

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Not every property is right for it and not every landlord wants it.

Fletcher said after his presentation that L-A is also getting those calls.

“I think if we had the space readily available, I think there would be high interest,” he said. “I will tell you to hang tight on 586 Lewiston Junction Road (the former Cascade Auburn Fiber) and the end use for that building that’s under contract.”

L-A’s industrial vacancy rates are low right now, he said. He’s talking to developers who are exploring the area with the potential of building on spec.

“We’re coming on 10 years since the recession and it’s taken every bit of that 10 years to get out of it,” Fletcher said. “But I think that the next 12 to 18 months provides a lot of potential opportunity for Lewiston-Auburn.”

Asked about Agren Appliance’s search in the Portland area for distribution space, Fletcher joked, “Trust me, I’ll have a conversation with Jason (Agren) on that one.”

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