GARDINER — The Bank of Maine on Thursday ceremoniously opened its new operations center in the Libby Hill Business Park, highlighting what city officials call a unique economic plan for developing the struggling property.

Peter Thompson, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Gardiner is a vital part of the capital area micropolitan, the 22 cities and towns that make up the state’s fourth largest labor market with a work force of more than 43,000 people.

He said the area is also is Maine’s fourth largest retail sales market, with total retail sales of $927 million in 2011. “Today’s good news at Libby Hill will help to make our region even stronger,” he said.

The city-owned business park, first built in 2000 with a second phase added in 2008, has five tenants, including EJ Prescott, Inc. and Pine State Trading Co.’s beverage division. The 260-acre park still has about a dozen lots available in the second phase of its expansion and it needs to attract new tenants to pay the park’s mounting debt.

City Manager Scott Morelli said The Bank of Maine’s move to Libby Hill is an example of how a credit enhancement agreement can benefit a community.

“We were able to give the building owner a slight tax break,” Morelli said. “In turn, the owner was able to offer a better lease agreement to the bank and the bank in turn was able to come up with a state-of-the-art operations center and keep 80 good jobs in Gardiner.”

Over the last few years, city officials say they have done a number of things to encourage businesses to move into Libby Hill, including bringing on board a marketing company to help attract tenants to the business park, and a new guide designed to help businesses better understand the city’s permitting and licensing process is now available. The guide has more than 14 pages of business assistance programs.

The city also offers assistance via tax increment financing, a gap finance: revolving loan fund and a discount program for new or expanding commercial waste water connections.

The newest proposal is to better promote business opportunities around greater Gardiner and at the business park.

Nate Rudy, Gardiner’s economic and community development director, said officials plan to contract the Fontaine Team of Auburn to represent city-owned properties, including the commercial land at Libby Hill.

He said the Fontaine Team has 30 years of experience in promoting, marketing, and closing real estate sales for commercial and residential clients in central Maine, and has strong technology-based marketing platform with global connections.

“Fontaine seems like the perfect partner for Gardiner, which seeks to promote a clear message about the location, work force, and financial incentive benefits that Libby Hill offers to prospective buyers throughout New England,” Rudy said.

Rudy will become a licensed sales agent working as an independent contractor with Fontaine, and will serve as the assigned agent for the Libby Hill properties. He said his representation as a licensed agent will reduce the city’s costs to $550 annual administrative fee and the brokerage fees, payable only at a successful closing.

“We believe that this hybrid model between real estate brokerage and economic development is unique to Maine’s business parks and will combine the highest level of industry insight, superior marketing, and professional service to Gardiner and businesses seeking to locate at Libby Hill,” he said.

Taking it to the bank

Renee Smyth, marketing officer for The Bank of Maine, greeted guests Thursday morning and gave tours of the bank’s new offices at 99 Enterprise Drive.

The 10,000-square-foot leased space consolidates the bank’s systems and operations groups, including loan processing, information technology, deposit and electronic servicing.

Smyth said the employees were moved from downtown buildings owned by the bank.

She said it offers greater amenities for employees, including an outdoor dining area, walking space and state of the art technology. There are 58 employees at the new offices and 62 in the branch downtown.

The center includes lots of nooks and rooms, an open space for office cubicles, a coffee corner, dining area and room for new mothers. There are even showers employees can use after their walks.

John Everets, chairman and CEO of the bank, said the move wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Gardiner officials. He said the bank is committed to the city of Gardiner and the many employees who reside in the area.

“This was a very substantial effort,” Everets said. He said the technology upgrade cost more than $1 million. “It puts us in a leadership position from all the other banks. We’re not just the little bank of Gardiner any longer.”

Mayor Andrew MacLean said Thursday that Gardiner is proud of its long relationship — since 1834 — with The Bank of Maine, called Gardiner Savings Bank until last year.

“This is a great celebration for Gardiner,” MacLean said. “As we move forward with our plans for the city, we are extraordinarily pleased to have The Bank of Maine’s operations center as a cornerstone of our efforts. The Bank of Maine has been, and continues to be, a great corporate citizen of our community.”

The bank’s name change came after a yearlong transformation that brought a new management team and the addition of more than 60 positions statewide. The bank began 2011 free from the regulatory scrutiny that governed much of its business and threatened its survival in 2010.

In January 2011, the federal Office of Thrift Supervision released the bank from two regulatory orders that since August 2009 had imposed tighter lending restrictions, mandated internal restructuring and required the bank to raise cash to cover losses.

One of those orders — “a prompt corrective action” directive issued in March 2010 — set a Sept. 30, 2010, deadline for boosting cash. Otherwise, the bank would have had to liquidate assets or arrange to be acquired.

Everets and Willard Soper led an investor group that took over the bank in May 2010 and injected $60 million into the institution.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

 


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