HALLOWELL — The state of Maine is moving to sell the Stevens School property as the city eyes a pot of public money that could provide incentives to developers.

The 64-acre campus off Winthrop Street will likely be appraised by the end of May, said Alex Willette, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Once the state pursues a sale, Hallowell officials say they could use money flowing into a fund established last year as part of a plan to woo developers.

“We could be doing stormwater work; we could be fixing up those roads and taking them over as municipal roads,” said City Manager Michael Starn. “There’s a lot of things that could be done to make that property attractive for a developer.”

Over the last few years, state offices have been leaving the campus. A prerelease center that housed former prison inmates closed in 2013 and last week, the Maine Department of Marine Resources announced that it would leave in mid-April for the Marquardt Building on the former state psychiatric hospital campus on Augusta’s east side.

Willette said the Natural Resources Service Center will leave by the end of April. After that, only the Maine Conservation Corps and a state parks and lands office will remain, and their departure date hasn’t been determined.

There was little interest when Maine tried to sell the Stevens School campus in 2008, and officials blamed it on a bad economy and the prerelease center’s presence. Since then, Hallowell has placed many of its future economic development hopes on the 14-building campus, which features a northern 20-acre field and an eastern 14-acre field representing much of the last undeveloped land in the city’s core.

A state map of the property drafted in June envisions residential development in the undeveloped portions and commercial uses. Chris Paszyc, the broker from CBRE/The Boulos Company in Portland who tried to sell the campus in 2008, said the state should “see interest from a variety of developers,” including those seeing potential for residential and commerical uses.

Two residential developments abut the property — Hallowell Overlook, managed by builder Matt Morrill of Winthrop, on the west and The Ridges, owned by Blais Property Management, on the east, — and Mayor Mark Walker said continuations of those developments on the Stevens School property could be “logical.” Neither Walker nor Starn would name potentially interested developers. Morrill declined comment when asked about his interest and Steve Blais of The Ridges said his company hasn’t expressed interest.

Money going into the fund established in 2014 with Hallowell’s downtown tax increment financing district could be leveraged to aid developers. It allowed the city to freeze its downtown-area property valuation for 30 years, with Hallowell agreeing to spend all of the money it saves on state and county taxes as development increases on improvements in that area.

By 2024, the city expects to have put $1.2 million into that fund, and Starn said the city could borrow against that to fund upgrades at the Stevens School complex, which Walker called “a natural use” for some of that money. But Paszyc said that “will certainly help generate interest,” but added that the money “also comes with strings attached” that could hinder a developer.

“So, it remains to be seen what the city wants those funds to be used for,” he said.

Councilor Alan Stearns, who lives on nearby Pleasant Street, called the Stevens School “a generational opportunity for Hallowell.”

But he said a specific borrowing proposal should be vetted by the public, council and committee before advancing, even though using public money there may be appropriate.

“But I think the taxpayers need a lot more information before we approach that,” Stearns said. “On an unfocused investment, the risk is as large as the opportunity.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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