SKOWHEGAN — Dana Cassidy means business.

A 65-year-old real estate developer with seven shopping centers and three hotels to his name already in Maine, Cassidy recently bought the 21-acre Skowhegan Village Plaza on outer Madison Avenue.

The plaza, built on farmland in 1965, is home to Pizza Hut and Burger King with land leases at the either end of the plaza and 12 stores in between, including Napa Auto Parts, a Subway sandwich shop, a beauty salon, a pet shop, a health food store and the vacant former Radio Shack store.

“It will be a vibrant, viable, pulsating shopping plaza,” Cassidy said from outside the former Job Lots building. “I’ve already paved the entire parking lot out front.”

The existing businesses are all staying, he said. Cassidy said he plans to renovate the vacant stores, turning the biggest one into a veterans’ and first responders’ museum with antique cars on display and a patriotic theme.

He also bought the town of Skowhegan’s retired firetruck for $20,000 to add to his antique auto collection, which he hopes to display in the veterans’ museum in the vacant former Chapter 11 store at the far end of the plaza. He said he now owns two firetrucks, an ambulance, a 1924 T-Bucket hot rod, a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass and other collector cars — all red and black, he said.

“I’m building a veterans’ museum for veterans and first responders for awareness and education,” he said of the 15,300-square-foot one-time home to the Buy Back Job Lots store. “I’d like to give back to the veterans. It’s nonprofit.”

Cassidy said he served during the Vietnam era with the 82nd Airborne of the U.S. Army, then spent eight years with the Maine Army National Guard.

The plaza renovation project already has begun with the repaving of the parking lot and should take 30 to 36 months to complete, he said. In the future museum building, Cassidy said he is installing a new ceiling, 105 new LED lights, a new floor and will have to replace the obsolete heating system.

Plaza tenants already are seeing progress with a new parking lot.

Ann Lathrop, store manager at Napa Auto Parts, said she likes Cassidy’s style.

“I think the new owner has done a tremendous job with making the building, the outside, the parking lot and the grass area nice,” she said from the parts counter. “I think he’s done real well cleaning up the place. He makes sure the trash is picked up, and just the parking lot alone makes a big difference.”

Angela Turner, at the Family Pet Connection, another tenant, agreed, saying the new parking lot already has increased business.

“I know things will get better, for sure,” she said.

Bryce Boynton, the former owner and current manager of Spice of Life Natural Foods store, said the change in ownership and the sprucing up of the plaza come at a good time — the store is to become a Pulse Center, with an energy delivery system that is said to reduce stress and pain. It also will continue to be a health food store.

“He’s already put a lot of money into the parking lot,” Boynton said. “He’s really hands-on and wants to really improve it — taking it from a shopping center that was down and out and making it into a world-class shopping center.”

The Skowhegan Village Plaza was sold in 1965 by dairy farmer Ralph Dunlop. The shopping center, the first of its kind for Skowhegan, once contained a JC Penney store, an Ames department store, a state liquor store and a large LaVerdiere’s Super Drug Store.

The former Movie Gallery rental store, which closed several years ago, remains vacant for now, as does the former Mr. Paperback bookstore.

Cassidy, who grew up in Presque Isle, also bought the Springhouse Gardens apartment building on Spring Street in Skowhegan, where he lives when he’s in town. Cassidy purchased the 25-unit apartment building at auction after foreclosure. The rest of the week he lives at his Colonial Inn in Ellsworth, he said.

Jeffrey Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development, said the improved shopping center could spell good news for the town.

“He’s renovating each spot as he goes,” Hewett said. “The ones that I’ve been in, he’s putting in new heating and cooling, he’s putting new doorways and he’s done a paint job on the front. Everything I’ve seen, he’s doing an excellent job.”

Hewett noted that Cassidy is on site, swinging a hammer or working atop a ladder, doing some of the work himself. He said the contractors Cassidy is using appear to have worked with him on other projects. Cassidy also has hired a couple of local men to work.

“So — knock on wood — everything seems to be very good up there,” Hewett said. “I think if you’ve got a great idea and you’ve got some background, he’s the guy that can help you out with that space up there.”

Cassidy said the Skowhegan firetruck he bought will be added to his collection of 17 motor vehicles to be added to the museum. He is in the process of commissioning an artist to paint a large mural for the front of the museum. The mural will be of an American flag with an eagle in the middle.

Cassidy said his career started with jobs in construction while he was in high school and continued through five years of college at the University of Maine, where he graduated with a degree in biology.

“I invested in myself,” he said. “I invested in properties, run-down properties. I rehabbed them and I retained them. I have about 60 buildings now, total.”

Of the Skowhegan Village Plaza’s 80,000 square feet of space, Cassidy said 19,000 square feet is occupied. The rest, he said, is dormant.

Cassidy said he is negotiating with a number of businesses and “major franchisees” about moving into the open spaces on the plaza. He also plans to develop the grassy space at the front of the shopping center.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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