AUGUSTA — Local developer Kevin Mattson is taking his pitch for a tax break to help redevelop the old MaineGeneral Medical Center hospital building to YouTube and other social media.
In the 10-minute video posted recently to YouTube, Mattson says why he thinks the city should return the property taxes that the company he leads — Augusta East Redevelopment Corp. — otherwise would pay on the seven-story, 317,000 square-foot building, which dominates the east side of the Kennebec River across from the city’s downtown. The tax money would go back to the company, at least until it finds some tenants.
Augusta East plans to spend about $23 million to breathe new life into the old hospital building once MaineGeneral moves most of its operations into the Alfond Center for Health, its regional $312 million hospital under construction in north Augusta, which is scheduled to open in November.
Without a tax break through the proposed tax-increment financing, or TIF, Mattson said, Augusta East, which purchased the East Chestnut Street property from MaineGeneral for $2.5 million, probably would have no choice but to tear the building down, because it would be too expensive to redevelop.
The building previously provided no property tax revenue to the city, because MaineGeneral is a nonprofit organization.
Mattson said public relations consultant Mark Robinson suggested making a video to explain the proposal and how it could benefit the city. Robinson is the off-camera voice who asks questions of Mattson, who appears seated in the video.
“The target audience is a taxpayer in Augusta, an average homeowner, who reads about what they think is a tax break,” Mattson said. “Because I think there’s a fundamental missing link of information about what these TIFs do for the community. It’s one of the very few economic development tools a municipality has. It’s powerful and it’s rare.”
Making a video about the seemingly dry topic of a tax deal for a local project is pretty rare, too.
“It’s a first for me,” said longtime City Manager William Bridgeo. “My compliments to Kevin for using social media to get the message out. I watched it. He had nice things to say about the business climate in the city of Augusta and his dealings with city officials. That was reassuring to hear. And to the extent it can educate residents on a complicated topic, it’s a good thing.”
As of Friday afternoon, the video had received 39 views on YouTube.
Though to making such a social media pitch might be unique in central Maine, it’s not unheard of.
A search of YouTube for “tax increment financing” turns up 421 results.
“The beauty of the Internet, of social media, is the ability to reach people directly, unfettered,” Mattson said. “We’re going to be doing more and more of this as the development unfolds. People want to know what’s going on. Something I’ve learned, the hard way, is if you’re doing a development and you aren’t keeping people informed, it leads to suspicion. If you’re transparent, in the long run you’ll do better.”
On the video, Mattson describes how another TIF helped his partners and he redevelop the former Digital Equipment plant off Civic Center Drive in 2003 into the thriving Central Maine Commerce Center office complex, where he said 1,000 people work.
He said the Commerce Center and development on the acreage around it wouldn’t have happened without a TIF. and the property now generates three times the property tax revenue it did before they took ownership.
He said the old MaineGeneral building also has the potential to accommodate 1,000 or workers.
A public hearing on the TIF proposal is scheduled for Thursday’s Augusta City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at Augusta City Center. If councilors think they have enough information to make a decision, they could vote on the proposal that night.
The proposal appeared to be received well by councilors at a recent informational meeting, and the city’s TIF Committee has endorsed it.
The deal does not require a public vote, just council action.
Even though he doesn’t need their votes, Mattson said he still wanted to make the case for the deal to Augusta residents. In the video, he also urges them to go to City Center, look at the TIF proposal documents and make up their own mind, rather than form their opinions based upon misinformation.
Mattson said he hasn’t been on camera in a video like this before, joking, “I’m not that interesting.”
He conceded it’s not “the most exciting viewing,” not like the hit PBS show “Downton Abbey”; even so, he said, “it’s a big deal.”
“These things require a little bit of investment of time to make a good decision,” Mattson said.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647