AUBURN — City officials tabled a decision Monday on whether to waive foreclosure on the empty Auburn Enterprise Center industrial park for unpaid property taxes.

The land off Lewiston Junction Road near the Auburn-Lewiston Airport is owned by the Auburn Business Development Corp., which has struggled to secure a single tenant for the nine lots developed in 2013. 

Because the corporation has not sold any lots, it has failed to pay property taxes on the land. Tax liens were previously filed for the nine properties for unpaid 2016 taxes and will mature Jan. 10.  

Mayor Jason Levesque said Tuesday he hoped the council will grant the waivers. If it does not waive the automatic foreclosure, the city will take possession of the properties.

“I would argue against it,” he said. “The city is not prepared to manage and dispose of such a large tract of valuable real estate.” 

The Auburn Enterprise Center came together in 2013 when there were high hopes the land could attract about $10 million in private investment

The city approved a $3 million bond in 2005 for the project to do the necessary site and utility work. 

The corporation describes its mission as facilitating the physical settlement, or resettlement, of business enterprises in Auburn.

“The underlying problem here is that these properties aren’t moving,” Levesque said Tuesday. “Their mission is to enhance Auburn’s economic activity, but something isn’t clicking there.” 

He said the council decided to table its decision in order to give the corporation a chance to meet and discuss the issue, and then present “a concrete plan that shows they are doing things differently than they have in the past 18 months.” 

Levesque said, however, he has faith the corporation can see movement there. He said its board of directors “is made up of some of the best business people we have in Auburn.” 

The total property taxes owed at the Auburn Enterprise Center for 2016 is about $36,700. 

The city also has tax liens for its 2017 taxes, which will mature in December 2019. At that time, the council will again have to decide whether to waive foreclosure. 

City Manager Peter Crichton said Tuesday he does not think it unusual for private economic development corporations to have “similar challenges in marketing business parks.”

“We need to try to work with them as best we can,” he said, adding the council simply “wasn’t ready to make a decision” Monday.

A year ago, the City Council agreed to the terms of a memorandum of understanding with the corporation, after about two years of discussions in executive sessions.

At the time, councilors and then-Mayor Jonathan LaBonte had mixed feelings about the corporation agreement after such a complicated history. 

“I cannot imagine moving forward and being successful in economic development without the assistance of an entity like the Auburn Business Development Corporation,” Crichton said at the time. 

LaBonte disagreed and urged future councilors and the future mayor to not “feel beholden” to the corporation.

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