SKOWHEGAN — The new owner of Skowhegan Village Plaza has big plans to fill vacant store fronts at the center, but they won’t include a coin-operated laundromat.

Dana Cassidy, of Ellsworth, who bought the 21-acre mini-mall in October, has pulled his plans for the laundry even after selectmen Tuesday night agreed to finance $36,600 in sewer hook-up fees. Cassidy said Skowhegan town officials weren’t “warm and fuzzy” enough, so he is moving the laundry operation to a plaza he owns in Caribou.

He said he might even move his Veterans Museum, already in place on the north end of the plaza, to another municipality.

Skowhegan selectmen and other town officials said Tuesday night and again on Friday that their hands are tied and they are obliged to enforce a town ordinance regulating municipal fees that apply to everyone.

“I think it’s sad. I really do,” said Randy Gray, Skowhegan’s code enforcement officer, who was directed by selectmen Tuesday night to work out a payment plan for the hook-up fees. “My job is pretty clear. I enforce the ordinances.”

Gray, a Skowhegan native, said the town is very “user friendly” when it comes to regulations, compared to other Maine towns. He said the sewer hook-up fee is a one-time charge based on projected use on any one given day. Skowhegan is one of only five towns in the state that do not have annual or quarterly sewer use fees, selectmen said Tuesday night.

Board Chairman Paul York on Tuesday assured Cassidy that the town is business-friendly, but is bound by ordinances adopted by residents at annual town meetings.

“I do commend you for trying to get businesses in there,” York said, “but it’s there in the ordinance, and we can’t change that.”

Gray said the town could not waive the $36,600 fee, and the payment plan was to be a negotiated way to ease the financial burden for Cassidy.

On Friday, Cassidy, 65, said he understands how hard it is to run a town of about 9,000 people and will “respect and honor and do whatever they say,” but he added that “there is no gratitude, there’s no appreciation” for the work and money he has invested in the plaza, which he said will bring prosperity to Skowhegan.

Cassidy said he has invested more then $2 million in upgrades to the plaza beyond what the acquisition price was. The plaza sold for $1.15 million, according to town assessors’ records.

He told the board Tuesday night he intended to turn the former Spice of Life natural foods store into a commercial laundromat. He appealed to the board to give him a break on the fee to hook into the town sewer line. The new place was to have 16 commercial washing machines and 16 commercial dryers.

Cassidy said that he hoped to “mitigate” that fee.

He said he would have done the work on the building himself. He sees the laundromat as a plaza magnet, along with the Subway sandwich shop, the new Miller Fitness gymnasium, the Beauty by Design salon and the Family Pet Connection. He has repaved the parking lot and paid for an artist to paint a mural atop his museum, which is filled with antique cars and classic military and first-responder equipment.

“I’m doing it as a catalyst to excite the rest of the tenants, the rest of the center, the city as a whole for perpetual traffic,” he said Tuesday. “It’s sustenance for the center — all day, every day. It brings people in and when they’re there, they eat, do their laundry or they may go to the gym or buy pet supplies.”

He said he has a senior nursing group scheduled to move into the former Curves For Women location at the south end of the plaza, is negotiating with a doctors group for other vacant space where Napa Auto Parts and Radio Shack were and says he has an auto dealership interested in the former Movie Gallery.

He said Friday he invested $287,000 in laundromat machines and now will ship them to Caribou. He said he didn’t want a payment plan for the sewer fees; he wanted the fees gone. Cassidy added that he will have to finance modern water and sewer extensions to the far north end of the plaza because the original lines are old and need to be replaced.

He said he helps pay for the remodeling of the stores and negotiates with business owners to make it easier to move in.

Curtis Miller, co-owner of the new Miller Fitness gymnasium, in the former Mr. Paperback store, said Friday he is pleased with what Cassidy has done for them with incentives to open and stay open.

“Dana’s been great for us,” said Miller, 27. “He helped us out getting in here and giving us enough to get going. We worked out a deal where it worked out for both of us.”

He said the set-up is ideal because there is a tanning business, Beauty by Design, next door and a Subway sandwich shop next to that.

“Healthy as you can get,” he said.

Cassidy said that he gives and the businesses give to reinvigorate the plaza, but the town isn’t willing to give, too.

“If I’m the only one giving — me and my tenants — I don’t feel it’s right,” he said. “It’s the principle. The (Board of Selectmen) speaks for the citizens and if that’s the way the citizens feel, the people of Skowhegan, I don’t feel good about it.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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