During a tour of the Rock Row property Monday, Westbrook residents and city officials are shown the site of a planned pedestrian path along the quarry. The path would connect with of other trails. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — Rock Row — a large commercial and residential development under construction — plans to build what it says will be the state’s largest conference center by far, company officials announced this week.

Still in the planning stages, the conference center will be modeled after a venue in Alpharetta, Georgia, that has a capacity of more than 8,000 people, according to Joshua Levy, co-founding principal of developer Waterstone Properties.

Further details about the venue are not available. The project still needs to be introduced to the Planning Board for approval.

The Rock Row conference center will be modeled after this venue in Alpharetta, Georgia. Courtesy photo

Construction of the conference center is slated for phase 3 of the planned 2.5 million square foot mixed-use development on Main Street. Dates for phase 2 have not yet been announced. Phase 1, featuring a Market Basket, is underway and nearing completion.

Levy said the company will announce within the next few months additional major tenants, including a health care provider and a large outdoor recreation retailer.

The largest conference center in Maine, at the Holiday Inn By The Bay in Portland, has a capacity of 1,200 people, according to Rock Row Chief Marketing Officer Greg John.

A new, larger conference center would put Maine “on the playing field with the other states,” said Westbrook Economic Development Director Dan Stevenson.

“It would be so beneficial to our towns. If you have people coming in to the conference center, staying overnight in hotels, they will be looking for something to do,” Suzanne Joyce said, president of the Westbrook/Gorham Chamber of Commerce.

Both Joyce and Stevenson said the center will be beneficial to Maine companies, too.

The Paper Store, attached to the Market Basket, is under construction. Chance Viles / American Journal

“It has been difficult trying to find a site (for events) for some of these companies we have that have thousands of employees across the country. Now we can offer a site here, instead of traveling out of the state,” Joyce said.

Officials at the Maine Office of Tourism could not be reached for comment by American Journal’s print deadline.

 The temporary outdoor Maine Savings Pavilion will be taken down once the conference center is built, which has always been part of the plan. Residents who have complained in the past about noise from concerts at the pavilion also have called for a permanent, enclosed venue. 

While the pavilion attracts both small and large scale performers, a conference center “allows you to program year-round and that helps drive a lot of visitors. They spend a lot of time in the city, not just at Rock Row, but downtown,” Stevenson said.

Rock Row officials said they are shooting for 200 events per year at the conference center, with 65% of them conferences and the remainder concerts and other special events.

Although there is more leasing and building to be done, Waterstone, working with the University of Southern Maine, figures that at full build out in three to four years, Rock Row could bring in 3,500 jobs, from retail positions to health care positions.

“That’s $150 million in wages, and this could be $12 million a year in taxes” paid to the city based on both property and projected spending, Levy said.

Phase 1 of Rock Row is nearing completion, with the Paper Store in it’s final stages and Market Basket within a month or so of completion, Levy said.

Market Basket, he said, has begun hiring for its 300 positions and expects to open later this summer.

Other signed tenants include Starbucks, The Paper Store, Cinemark, a Westin hotel and Chik-Fil-A.

“Waterstone stepped into (this project) with a vision. We see a lot of pretty pictures (and) most don’t happen in the end, but they are delivering and it’s impressive,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said during the tour Monday.

Light shows could be held at the quarry, a Waterstone official said during a tour of the project Monday. Chance Viles / American Journal

Residents and city officials check out what will be the entrance to Rock Row, across from the Westbrook Crossing shopping plaza. Chance Viles / American Journal


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