Cliff Miller stands in front of one of several buildings under construction at the cannabis business park he and partners are developing off outer Minot Avenue in Auburn. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

AUBURN — Off busy Minot Avenue, down a road that didn’t exist until last year, Cliff Miller is ready to oversee a cannabis empire.

After millions in startup investment, the first plants start arriving later this month.

He’s calling it, to his knowledge, Maine’s “first and only cannabis business park.”

“I want to be the biggest, the best, the cleanest, the most high-end we can be,” said Miller, 34, a Lisbon native. “Typically if I can envision it, if I can put some milestones and goals and rationalize how to get there, I will make it happen. It’s going to be cool.”

Mystique Way, a group of three Portland-based businessmen, last year bought 32 acres off Minot Avenue, remnants of a 1960 industrial park that hadn’t yet been developed. They applied to build a greenhouse on the site, then connected with Miller, head of Atlantic Cannabis Collective, who is building two more greenhouses and consulting on the first.

The projects, on a road since named Mystique Way, have already been approved or have pending city permits for more than $3.1 million in work.

A massive foundation will soon support numerous cannabis cultivation operations on Mystique Way in Auburn. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Miller is forecasting that investment at the site will hit $6 million to $7 million by the end of this year.

“Just the (grow) lights from my two facilities were $225,000,” he said. “We’re not putting up little hoop houses, we’re putting up state-of-the-art facilities.”

The area is zoned for industrial use, which allows cultivation, though the city is in the final stretch of creating an ordinance specific to medical and future recreational marijuana sales and growing in town.

“The council’s going to have to vote on that in May, but the previous council was very open to it as a piece of our economy,” said Eric Cousens, Auburn’s deputy director of economic and community development. “It is creating jobs, it’s creating new taxable value — these are substantial investments that are entirely because of that industry.”

Miller isn’t stopping at Mystique Way: Once the state hammers out recreational marijuana rules, he has plans for across the street.

‘YOUNG GUN’ COMES HOME

Miller described himself as a “really bad kid” growing up, expelled three times from two high schools. He worked at the restaurant his mother managed, but she encouraged him to think bigger. That led to a real estate course.

“I had to wait to turn 18 before they would issue me my license,” he said.

By 19, he’d sold $1 million in real estate, but it was a tough go. He switched to mortgage broker — “I found it much easier to give people my age and older money versus getting them to spend it” — and turned that into a career, first in Maine then Florida, buying and flipping properties on the side.

Mortgage Professional America Magazine named Miller one of its Young Guns in 2016, an award for “the brightest under-35 stars in the business.”

“I commuted from Florida to D.C. every week. My clients were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” Miller said, “so I’m comfortable doing $20 million, $30 million projects, managing the whole piece of it.”

In 2016, his future brother-in-law suggested he keep an eye on the cannabis industry in Maine after voters approved adult use.

Miller’s first entry: Financing the lease and build-out of a 4,000-square-foot facility in Brunswick near the police station and subleasing to two medical marijuana caregivers.

“We became more comfortable with the industry,” he said. “The real estate was kind of the transition into my comfort level.”

Within two years, Miller and his wife, Jennifer, settled in Maine, became registered caregivers, outfitted a mill space in Windham for themselves to grow and hired 3C, a consulting firm out of Colorado, to prep for a large-scale project.

“(3C) is where all of my numbers come from — my budgets, my forecasts, everything,” Miller said. “The adult-use numbers are scary.”

Scary good, he says.

GREENHOUSES UNDERWAY, MORE PLANS

Getting finishing touches and occupancy permits now at 51 Mystique Way is a 6,400-square-foot greenhouse and a 1,600-square-foot extraction facility owned by Mystique Way.

The three owners of the corporation declined to talk about the project. Miller said he anticipates young marijuana plants from his space in Windham will move in there at the end of the month and the business park will officially be growing.

Under construction at 60 Mystique Way, on one of the lots Miller leases, is an 11,300-square-foot greenhouse scheduled to be complete June 15.

Just beyond that at 70 Mystique Way is a 4,000-square-foot greenhouse also on a lot leased by Miller, scheduled to open June 1.

At his two greenhouses, he anticipates eventually having 25 to 30 employees and another 10 to 15 contractors on a trim crew.

“By the end of this year, I’d like to have another 13,000 to 26,000 square feet of greenhouse there, as well as an additional (4,000-square-foot) extraction facility,” Miller said.

All of the greenhouses will start out being used by already-lined-up medical marijuana caregivers growing under the state’s existing rules, which limit the number of clients they can have and plants they can grow, and then transition to growing for recreational use once state rules are in place for that, which could come as soon as the end of 2019.

By the end of this year, Miller also hopes to have things shaping up across the street.

Last month, he bought 11 acres at 1315 Minot Ave. with plans to build out a strip mall. He envisions an anchor store occupied by a high-end adult-use cannabis dispensary, a coffee shop, additional retail space and, ideally, a state marijuana testing lab, if he can find the right group to move in and city regulations allow it.

Miller said he likes the vibe on that end of town set by businesses like Mac’s Grill and Side By Each Brewing Co., and the traffic coming in from western Maine.

“To be completely candid, for me, that’s the money route,” he said. “Everybody coming into Auburn from that direction has a higher income, the real estate value is more. To me that’s a more expensive place to be in town.”

Building materials and mounds of excavated dirt highlight the magnitude of this project. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

‘I’M GOING TO BE’ MAINE’S CANNABIS KING

Auburn’s Cousens said that at least starting out, the still-to-be-named business park won’t be the largest cultivation spot in town; Wellness Connection of Maine and the former Cascade Auburn Fiber both have more square feet.

Miller anticipates Mystique Way will build more greenhouses as demand increases under recreational-use rules.

David Heidrich, spokesman for the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy, said this week he’s hoping the group contracted to write recreational rules finishes that effort by the end of April and has the proposal in front of the Legislature before it adjourns in June. He’d like to see the state licensing recreational retailers and growers by December.

Miller praised Auburn officials as having been “super, super supportive. Some towns have not.”

He’s hoping people here are comfortable with the development. Aware that behind his planned strip mall will be more land for greenhouses, if desired, Miller said he’s not eager to go there yet. “I still love Maine. I don’t want to bastardize everything with cannabis,” he said, adding that he wants to keep the greenhouses on Mystique Way visually innocuous.

The sign marking where the development is. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

“Where if you took a wrong turn with your kids, you could do a turnaround here and you’re not freaked out about it,” he said.

Once it’s launched for adult use, he hopes to have his local pastor out to bless the property.

Miller said all but one of his business partners are Maine-based, and that one is a good friend in Florida. They’ve taken out no loans so far for the project.

He’s pursuing plans for a second dispensary, in the former Southgate Restaurant near Bath Iron Works in Bath, and said projections show that with two dispensaries, two extraction facilities and 50,000 square feet of greenhouse space, “the gross between all of that exceeds $100 million over a five-year period.”

“My goal is to be the largest cannabis company in the state of Maine,” he said.

Miller recently talked big picture with a member of a private equity group in Portland.

“He’s like, ‘Man, you truly are going to be Maine’s king (of) cannabis,'” said Miller. “I’m like, ‘I’m going to be, and I’m going to probably steal that name as we get going.'”

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A proposed site plan from last fall for 32 acres off Minot Avenue where developers are building cannabis cultivation greenhouses

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