SCARBOROUGH — When the Risbara and Michaud brothers pitched their plan to redevelop Scarborough Downs, they figured it would take about 18 months to sell all 30 single-family homes in the residential portion of the 500-acre project.

So the local developers were encouraged this month when 21 of the planned houses were under contract after 10 days on the market. In addition, nine of 48 planned condominiums were reserved before the developers finalized condo documents or listed the properties, which is expected to happen this week.

Early signs of success for the $621 million mixed-use project come after the Risbaras and the Michauds faced fierce scrutiny from some residents who opposed their plan to redevelop the failing horse-racing facility in the center of town.

Rocco Risbara, left, and Peter Michaud, along with their brothers, are developing land at Scarborough Downs. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette)

“We hoped sales would be brisk, but this is really exciting,” said Rocco Risbara, head of Risbara Bros. Construction. “As much as all the public meetings were painful, it may have helped us exceed our goals. People have known this was coming and they want to be a part of it.”

The three-bedroom houses are priced between $310,000 and $385,000, offering 1,400 to 1,700 square feet of living space and lots ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 square feet, Risbara said. Sixteen duplex cottage condos are priced between $350,000 and $400,000 and 32 garden-style condos are priced between $200,000 and $250,000, according to thedowns.com.

Risbara said the project’s residential phase was designed to meet growing demand for smaller, more affordable homes in Cumberland County.

“That’s an underserved market, especially for new construction in Scarborough,” Risbara said. “That’s why we’re trying to hit that price point.”

The median price for a single-family home in Cumberland County increased 26 percent in the last five years, from $244,000 in 2014 to $307,000 in 2018, according to the Maine Real Estate & Development Association.

During the same period, the length of time that houses in the county spent on the market dropped from 46 days to 12 days. The most popular home on the market in Maine is a three-bedroom ranch on less than one-quarter acre with 1,500 to 1,999 square feet of living space.

The Risbara and Michaud brothers bought the Downs in January 2018 for $6.7 million with the intention of fulfilling the town’s goal to redevelop the racetrack property into a village center. A total build-out would include $396 million in housing, $143 million in commercial space and $75 million in industrial space.

Over the next 10 months, the developers and town officials carried out a multifaceted promotional campaign that eventually won necessary Planning Board and Town Council approvals, including a controversial credit enhancement agreement that will reimburse as much as $81 million in property taxes over 30 years.

The developers said they needed the tax break to offset about $150 million in project development costs related to the village-center concept, such as building 8 miles of road and extending wastewater service from Route 1, across the parcel, to Payne Road. Additional credit agreements would be necessary if they built a proposed community center or 4-acre park where the racetrack stands.

Risbara said road and utility work is well underway, and foundation work and framing has begun on the condos and four 12-unit apartment buildings.

Located off Route 1, the residential phase also includes several common outdoor areas, an interconnected recreational trail and a 12-bed memory care facility proposed by The Mooring on Foreside in Cumberland that’s before the Planning Board and expected to break ground in June.

Across the Downs property, off Payne Road and near exit 42 of the Maine Turnpike, the developers have proposed building Innovation Park for light industrial businesses.

Risbara said they’ll be seeking subdivision approval in March for 57 one-acre lots that would be shovel-ready for 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot buildings or could be combined for larger buildings.

Under the village-center scenario, if the brothers succeed in developing $615 million in new assessed value at the Downs within 20 years, the town would collect $581 million in additional property and excise taxes over 30 years and spend $235 million to provide additional public services to residents and businesses in that area.

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