The entrance to FirstPark, off Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

OAKLAND — FirstPark’s 2020 was a year unlike no other. In a twist from the negative news of this year, the business park’s year was different for overwhelmingly positive reasons.

FirstPark paid off its bond debt in November, and on Tuesday announced the sale of 46 First Park Drive, a 20,000-square-foot building, to Tom and Debrah Yale for $1.9 million.

“What attracted us about Oakland and the Waterville area was that it has a much more available labor pool than York and Cumberland counties,” Tom Yale said. “The real estate pressure on York and Cumberland counties is fairly significant at the moment, but we feel the development and growth potential in the greater Waterville area is ripe.”

The commerce and technology center off Kennedy Memorial Drive boasts a 285-acre campus, but FirstPark struggled at times to add more tenants.

This year, though, marked a turnaround. In November, the business park made its final bond payment, closing out a 20-year loan provided by funds from the park’s 24 municipal members. The park made four sales this year, the highest number of commercial real estate sales completed since FirstPark opened in 1999.

FirstPark Executive Director Jim Dinkle said the park has succeeded for several reasons including increased marketing, businesses making moves for the “post-pandemic world” and the sale of the 78,610-square-foot building that houses the T-Mobile call center to JB Brown & Sons of Portland for $10.7 million in April. The building sits on 26 acres at 133 First Park Drive.

Jim Dinkle, executive director of FirstPark in Oakland. Contributed photo

“People saw that there was a good return on investment, and that kind of helped kick things off the remainder of the year,” Dinkle said. “We are in talks with a couple of major users in 2021, but again, we’re just kind of in the opening phase, so there’s plenty of work to do when we reopen the office on Jan. 4 after New Year’s.”

Lot 4 on Technology Drive is under contract with a medical-related practice. The 10.4-acre lot went for a negotiated price of $90,000 and FirstPark anticipates closing before February. In March, PHAT LLC purchased a 6,000-square-foot office condo for $685,000. Excavation for a dental practice is to begin in January.

The Yales recently sold their rope-making company, Yale Cordage Inc., and are reinvesting in commercial property around the state. Their property houses Gateway Financial, Maine Medical Partners, Kennebec Valley Development Authority and River Associates. There’s one open office suite that recently became available.

Some of the tenants were involved in the building ownership, but now the Yales are the sole owners. FirstPark connected the former partners with the Yales.

“We certainly make real estate investments on the basis of the potential return that (tenants) will yield and relative as to how it will appreciate over the years,” Yale said. “The park itself is literally second to none that I have visited in this state in terms of its infrastructure, sidewalks and lighting.”

Located in a foreign trade zone off Exit 127 of Interstate 95, FirstPark hired SVN | The Urbanek Group of Portland as the commercial and industrial real estate broker to sell the 14 remaining lots, which are listed at $15,000 per acre.

Owners pay an annual assessment of $500 per lot to the authority, and lot owners are subject to a restrictive covenant.

T-Mobile is FirstPark’s anchor tenant with roughly 800 employees. Bioenergetic Healing, Gateway Financial Partners, Northern Light Podiatry, L.L.Bean, MaineGeneral, Maine Medical Partners, Maine Eye Doctors, One River CPAs, Waterville Community Dental Center and SurgiCare also own space at the park.

“There’s a diversity of property owners within the park, and tenants who are located within FirstPark,” Dinkle said. “People see that it’s not just medical, it’s professional offices, that it’s a good mix of tenants.”

Optometrists Helen Bell and Lorie Parks opened their Maine Eye Doctors on July 1. They had worked under a different practice and wanted to open their own. They chose their 4,350-square-foot space at 25 First Park Drive for its convenient access, modern facilities and high speed internet access.

Being in FirstPark, Bell said, also provides exposure for those going to work or doing business within FirstPark.

“We toured the FirstPark facility, and it really had everything we were looking for,” Bell said. “It’s a beautiful place. People have been really receptive to the change.”

Bell and Parks have nearly 50 years of experience combined, all in the central Maine area. They shared a “commitment to stay in the community that we know and love.” Parks was born and raised in Waterville. Bell’s children attend local schools.

Maine Eye Doctors closed on the space just as the coronavirus pandemic shut things down, but immediately pivoted for a coronavirus safe office environment. There’s plenty of physical distancing and cleaning to go along with other safety measures.

“In regards to COVID-19, if you had to open a practice, ideally, during a pandemic would not have been how we would have planned it. Having said that, we were able to plan around the pandemic so our office is completely compliant,” Bell said. “When we opened the practice, we were completely humbled by the volume of patients who really were committed to finding us, staying with us and showing their support.”

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