A Saco developer Tuesday will unveil updated plans for The Waters, an ambitious $40 million mixed-use development on Saco Island.

Bernie Saulnier of Saulnier Development first announced last summer that he plans to transform the eastern side of Saco Island into a mix of apartments, a boutique hotel and a marina.

Saco Island – also known as Factory Island – sits in the Saco River between the downtowns of Biddeford and Saco. It links both cities’ historic mill districts, where developers in the last decade have transformed former textile factories into housing and commercial and light industrial spaces.

City officials say the ambitious proposal has the potential to make a significant impact in the core of the downtown, but also advised Saulnier to gather input from the community before submitting formal plans for consideration. He held several public meetings about his proposal last year.

The meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Saco City Hall is hosted by the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Chamber of Commerce.

Saulnier Development has partnered with hotel developer Jim Brady, whose projects include The Press Hotel in Portland. Brady is currently redeveloping a former courthouse on Washington Street in Biddeford. Saulnier submitted his proposal to the city last week and it could be on a planning board agenda as soon as May 15, according to City Planner Bob Hamblen.

“I think Saco is very eager to see this project get started and so am I,” Saulnier, who lives in Saco, said in a statement. “There’s been an explosion of redevelopment in downtown Biddeford-Saco, but this piece will link everything together. These two cities have officially moved forward into a completely new and positive economic era and there’s no going back.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Saulnier and the design team working on the project will provide a detailed development schedule and answer questions about the plan.

Saulnier Development purchased the 6-acre parcel of land in 2017. A decade earlier, a different developer had announced plans to build offices, townhouses and a marina on the property, but that development never materialized because of economic conditions.

Saulnier’s plan for Saco Island includes residential units, a 50-room boutique hotel, a restaurant and retail space, and a 69-slip marina. The housing will be split between three buildings with a combined 87 apartment units and five townhouses. Renderings of the development released ahead of the meeting also show a walking path along the river.

During the meetings about his proposal last year, Saulnier heard from community members who were both excited and hesitant about his plans to transform one of the last undeveloped tracts of land in the downtown core. While some residents welcomed more housing and a downtown hotel, they also worried about the impact on traffic in an already congested corridor.

Craig Pendleton, executive director of the chamber of commerce, called Saulnier’s project a “gem” that is defined by its heavy emphasis on the Saco River and providing public access to the area.

“What has previously been a desolate no man’s land will now open up sweeping vistas of the Saco River,” he said. “The economic rebound that these two cities have been making since 2012 has wisely used the river’s natural draw to encourage economic revitalization.”

Saulnier’s previous projects include housing developments in Wells, Old Orchard Beach and Massachusetts. He ran into opposition from residents on Munjoy Hill in Portland when he pitched a six-story condominium development. Residents pushed back because the building on Sheridan Street would obscure the view of Back Cove from a neighborhood park, and Saulnier agreed to reduce the height of the building.

The Portland City Council ultimately approved a new height overlay zone that prevents any new development from obstructing the panoramic view from Fort Sumner Park. Saulnier’s modified plans for the Sheriden Street project were approved by the Portland Planning Board last fall.

 

filed under:

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.