The Orono Town Council last week approved the formation of a Tax Increment Financing District that could boost the long-sought redevelopment of Ayers Island.

Ayers Island had a long and sometimes checkered history with the town. The 62-acre Ayers Island was, for many years – by some estimates, as far back as 1838 – the home of a mill complex that eventually grew to more than 300,000 square feet. What was known as the Striars textile struggled for years before closing for good in 1996; the property fell back to the town, but UMaine professor George Markowsky entered into a lease-purchase agreement with the town in 1999 before buying the property for $100 about four and a half years later. Development plans envisioned by Markowsky over the next few years never materalized.

Last year, however, Orono Community Development Director Dave Milan said a new potential redevelopment plan involving Markowsky and the town was in the works. The plan for redevelopment, which has not been etched in stone, could potentially call for usage to be split into thirds – one third residential, one third commercial, and one third open space.

TIF funds would be used to help pay for that effort. Within a designated TIF district, all of the property value that is taxable continues to be taxed; however, the increment (or new value) is sheltered and associated taxes are captured (restricted) to be used only for those activities included in the approved development plan. In this case, the proposed TIF seeks to shelter 100 percent of the new value created since April 1, 2017. The TIF district would remain in place for 30 years.

The TIF district would serve multiple purposes. In addition to the redevelopment of Ayers Island, it would help fund the repair of the bridge to the island. It also would support Orono Brewing Company’s parent company, Woodman’s Brewing Company, LLC, in its plan to expand its brewery facilities, which could draw more visitors and business to the Basin area of Orono.

The plan approved by the council also included a Credit Enhancement Agreement with Hub, LLC, the parent company of Orono Brewing Company, which recently opened a new facility at 61 Margin Street. Hub LLC will receive 44 percent of any new value on the property in return for improvements made over the course of 20 years or until $100,000 is returned, whichever comes first.

The TIF District is subject to final approval by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

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