WILTON — Market the outdoors and work with the community’s assets, a developer told downtown property owners Thursday morning.
The consultant, Mike Lyne, of JHR Development, was invited to answer questions from Wilton property owners about preparing buildings to attract tenants, buyers or investors. The talk at Comfort Inn & Suites was the second of three economic forums on Wilton’s business future hosted by the town and Greater Franklin Development Corp.
Some of Lyne’s development company’s projects include developing space around the Brunswick railway station, retrofitting the former Barber Foods industrial building and redeveloping space at the former Navy commissary in Topsham into the Wicked Joe Coffee headquarters.
Lyne said the town will have the most success if business owners and officials work together to market property in town collectively. He said it was a big step for the town to have the forum with different stakeholders in the room.
“Real estate can get possessive at times, and a lot of people don’t want to share their experiences,” he said.
He recommended not hesitating to advertise and said people respond to visually appealing marketing. He also advised the town to make long-term plans and find a low-cost way to study the market.
“Very few succeed by crisis management,” he said.
Alison Hagerstrom, executive director of Greater Franklin Development Corp., said the downtown area has a tax-increment financing district that potential investors should know about.
Town Manager Rhonda Irish said one of the challenges is that Wilton is not near major highways or tourist areas.
“It seems that everything happens along the coast or along I-95,” she said.
Lyne said the town should play up what assets it has, such as outdoor recreation and the natural beauty of the region’s rivers and lakes. He said already existing resources such as trails and lakes are great ways to attract buyers and investors.
Chris Farmer, manager of Saddleback Mountain and Wilton property owner, agreed and said he hears his former classmates talk about the natural resources when they get together at the town’s annual Blueberry Festival.
“They wish they were up here more,” he said.
Other property owners asked for advice on renovating property for sale or for rent. Randy Cousineau, owner of the Bass Building on Main Street, said he is seeking approval to build upstairs apartments in the building; but he said he would be gambling that someone will rent the apartments and that the residential space won’t turn off commercial renters.
“It’s scary to do the improvements if they are not going to work,” he said.
Selectman Paul Berkey, who owns property in town, said the town should look for events to draw people to downtown, like the annual Blueberry Festival.
“After church services on Sunday, the town is dead,” he said.
Berkey said they should continue to encourage baby steps toward recovery from the end of an era when Wilton had more large employers. He said the downtown already is taking those steps, pointing out the popular Pro Nails salon, which draws customers from around the region to Wilton’s Main Street.
“We’re starting to come back,” he said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 | [email protected]