FirstPark has announced a new partnership with a global commercial real estate firm as part of a shift in strategy to bring new development and companies to the Oakland business park near Interstate 95.

The real estate firm, SVN The Urbanek Group, now has a listing agreement with the Kennebec Regional Development Authority, which owns and operates the park. SVN would aim to attract developers to the 285-acre business park as KRDA seeks small to medium-sized companies to lease buildings on lots.

SVN would receive commissions for sales on development brought to the park as it draws from its broader network pool of developers, said Brad Jackson, KRDA’s executive director.

The announcement comes amid questions from some municipal officials and residents about their communities’ continued financial investments in FirstPark, which hasn’t attracted a major new tenant since the T-Mobile call center moved there about a decade ago. The call center has about 700 employees.

“This is a bit of a shift in strategy,” Jackson said in an interview Thursday. “The thinking in the past has been getting more T-Mobile buildings here, large companies. That’s not the market here anymore. We’re looking for smaller companies, small, medium-sized enterprises, and hand-holding them over the border. It’s the next step.”

Andrew Cook, a Rome resident who recently was elected as a member of the KRDA board, said Thursday he supports Jackson’s efforts to “develop businesses on the FirstPark site as quickly as possible.”

“I’m glad to see he is suggesting new initiatives that have not been previously tried,” Cook said. “It’s very important that we change our approach in order to be successful and reduce the burden on the 24 participating towns’ taxpayers.”

KRDA, established in 1998, is a quasi-municipal body that was founded to stimulate economic development in Kennebec and Somerset counties. It established FirstPark in 2000 with investments from 24 member communities that also were supposed to share in its proceeds. However, the 3,000 jobs that park advocates predicted would be attracted to FirstPark largely have failed to materialize, and KRDA member towns still are paying off the bonds — estimated to be finished in 2021 — that were used to develop the park.

Jackson takes the long view, saying the next phase of bringing companies to FirstPark will take a couple of years to achieve.

KRDA previously had a listing agreement with Portland-based CBRE The Boulos Co. Jackson said the key now is looking for companies beyond Maine, from Halifax to Toronto and Boston to Buffalo, that don’t want to have to construct their own buildings. He said the new listing agreement with SVN will broaden the pool of potential developers for FirstPark sites.

FirstPark is composed of 24 lots. Of those, nine have been sold, including six that have been fully developed. T-Mobile is among 14 businesses at the park now.

There are five lots remaining that are fully service with road, water and sewer service, and another two lots with some services, Jackson said. His aim is to fully develop those five serviced lots in the coming few years.

Jackson said he hopes to “bundle” firms as a package that would motivate developers to take on the risk of building at FirstPark — that’s where SVN comes in — and construct buildings on the lots. Meanwhile, KRDA is focused on lining up tenants for those developed lots, he said.

Jackson, who took over as head of KRDA in 2013, said he’s seeking companies that might need only as little as a few hundred square feet of space for a handful of sales employees to companies needing several thousand square feet of space for dozens of employees.

“The intent is to put up larger buildings that can pay these 24 towns a greater return on their real estate taxes,” he said, adding that his goal would be to have 15,000 to 25,000 square feet of building fabric ready for new companies starting in 2017 and continuing after that.

Some FirstPark member communities in recent years have cried foul, saying the business park hasn’t attracted enough jobs to justify the annual expense of paying off the bonds.

In Rome, for example, selectmen last year asked that KRDA provide detailed financial forecasts and legal information on FirstPark, citing residents’ “overwhelming disapproval” of the financial burden of KRDA membership. KRDA turned down that request, saying the authority’s financial statements already were presented to its membership and were open to inspection.

In China, some residents at the Town Meeting last month peppered Jackson with questions about whether the town’s investment in FirstPark was worth it, given that fewer than a dozen town residents had been employed at the park at one time. Jackson, who was at the China meeting, told residents his focus is on attracting businesses from major cities to pitch the benefits of moving to central Maine, while defending the investments and pointing to the T-Mobile center as a key employer in the region.

“Essentially, we’re re-tagging what we’re doing here,” Jackson said Thursday, pointing to FirstPark’s new advertising campaign, “Business is moving here,” as the guiding focus. “We’re getting to a point where it’s time to start developing the supply side of the equation, cultivating the supply.”

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.