SCARBOROUGH — Less than three years after local businessmen bought Scarborough Downs and hundreds of acres around the horse track, their $621 million mixed-use redevelopment is advancing at a steady pace – despite some pieces delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 140 housing units have been built and sold or leased, and more than 180 additional residences are under construction. In the planned light-industrial park, 18 of 54 lots have been sold or are under contract, two buildings have been completed and four are under construction.

But plans to build a community recreation center for the town and an operations center for Wex Inc. have been put on hold because of the pandemic, although both are still features of the town center that the developers intend to build where the harness-racing facility now stands.

“They’re on COVID hold,” said Rocco Risbara, lead developer of The Downs. “But a lot is happening here now and a lot more is going to be happening here.”

Recent news about the racetrack expanded options for the development’s planned town center.

The racetrack’s operators announced last week that struggling live harness racing will end permanently on Saturday, while profitable off-track betting will continue in the clubhouse. Harness-racing enthusiasts are reportedly looking for another location in southern Maine to hold live events.

The developers had given the track’s operators a three-year lease to allow live racing to continue, Risbara said, and they had agreed to tailor the ongoing 524-acre development around the aging and dilapidated facility.

Rocco Risbara of Crossroads Holdings, the company developing The Downs, photographed in the completed Phase One of the multi-use development in Scarborough on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Scarborough Downs has a very special place in Maine’s history,” Risbara said. “Our hope is, and has always been, that a new location will be identified so that harness racing can continue to thrive.”

Whether the grandstand building will be preserved remains to be seen. It presents a “conundrum” to the developers, Risbara said, because it’s an iconic building that would take many millions of dollars to make viable for modern uses.

“It’s too good to throw away and not good enough to keep,” Risbara said.

Rocco Risbara of Crossroads Holdings, the company developing The Downs, stands in front of the grandstand at Scarborough Downs on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Risbara said he hopes Portland-based Wex will eventually sign a lease for a $50 million operations center that would be built adjacent to the the planned town center. Still, he believes the property would be attractive to a wide variety of companies because of the live-work-play opportunities offered at The Downs.

Wex continues to evaluate its plans for a campus at The Downs and won’t be making a decision until 2021, said Safet Cobaj, vice president of global facilities.

The international payment-processing technology company has offices in Portland and South Portland. In February, the Scarborough Town Council agreed to give Wex a cumulative $2.25 million property tax break over 15 years if the company set up shop at The Downs.

“The current situation has moved employees away from a traditional type of office environment, but we remain excited and steadfast to provide (our) employees the office structure that will best fit the future,” Cobaj said in a written statement. “As we anticipate changes in how we work, we are taking a pause to get a better understanding and make a more informed decision about what new office spaces should look like in the future.”

A paving crew lays asphalt on a section of Downs Road in The Downs multi-use development in Scarborough on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Downs was purchased in January 2018 for $6.7 million by a group of longtime Scarborough residents consisting of Rocco, William and Marc Risbara, owners of Risbara Bros. Construction; and Peter and Richard Michaud, former owners of Michaud Distributors, a Northeast regional snack delivery company.

In November 2018, the Town Council approved a credit enhancement agreement that would reimburse as much as $81 million in property taxes to the developers over three decades if they meet certain goals. The reimbursement is intended to offset $150 million in project costs related to developing a new town center, such as building 8 miles of town-owned roads and extending sewerage across the development, from Route 1 to Payne Road.

Under the agreement, if the brothers succeed in developing at least $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.

So far, the developers have completed and sold or leased 138 housing units in the first phase of residential construction near the Route 1 entrance, including 48 market-rate apartments, 48 condominiums, 30 single-family homes and a 12-bed memory care home.

The second phase of residential development is well underway and nearly 70 percent sold out, including 24 condominiums, 23 single-family homes and 58 market-rate apartments. The Uplands, a 78-unit subsidized housing project for people age 55 and older, is also under construction.

Phil Conley moved from South Portland into a single-family home in development in July 2019, along with his wife and the youngest of their three children.

Trails that include bridges like this one wind throughout the neighborhoods in the completed first phase of the multi-use development of The Downs in Scarborough. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Conley, who teaches physical education in South Portland schools and coaches boys’ basketball at Scarborough High School, said the location of The Downs was a major attraction, especially convenient to the Maine Turnpike, good schools and several beaches.

His family also likes the design and construction of the development’s neighborhoods, roads and landscaping, and they look forward to other planned features, including a supermarket, a community recreation center and a town center with restaurants and other commercial operators.

“The developers are doing a great job,” Conley said. “We’re excited to see what’s going up next.”

In the light-industrial Innovation District off Payne Road, two buildings have been completed, for AV Technik and Scorebuilders; four are under construction, including Throttle Car Club, Ducas Construction and Incubes; and another eight are expected to start construction by February, including Mainely Tubs, Zoom Drain, Pride Self-Storage and Oyster LLC.

Two Westbrook companies, Pine State Services and Zoom Drain, have outgrown their current space and will move more than 100 employees to The Downs, said Sam Marcisso, Pine State’s CEO.

In central areas among the neighborhoods of the completed first phase development at The Downs are natural sitting and play areas, like the one pictured here. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I’ve been looking for a long time and there was no inventory in Greater Portland,” Marcisso said. “I saw the ease of permitting here and I could build exactly what I wanted.”

The Downs also is convenient for him and many of his employees, who live in Scarborough, and he’s looking forward to having a town center.

“It’s something that Scarborough has never had,” Marcisso said. “I’ve always been envious of other communities that have a downtown.”

By 2023, the developers say, The Downs will have created 1.1 million square feet of commercial, light industrial and recreational development, with 87 acres of conserved open space and wetlands, 4.3 miles of sidewalks, 10 miles of trails and 3 miles of bike lanes.

“This place is about bringing people together,” Risbara said. “People from all walks of life will meet here.”

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