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Stenton Trust Highlight of Growth Council Update

Jim Nimon, Executive Director of the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, presented his quarterly report to the City Council at its meeting on July 20.

The biggest news was that there has been progress with the development of the long-vacant Stenton Trust building on River St. WinnDevelopment, a Massachusetts-based company, has submitted a preapplication to Maine Housing, which is a first step in converting the former industrial building to residential use. The remaining structure includes 107,000 square feet of space. Mr. Nimon said he has been in regular contact with the company’s representatives over the past year. They have laid out their financing plans, which include taking advantage of multiple tax credits and other resources. Mr. Nimon said he was advocating for American Rescue Plan funds from York County as well. He said this project will be able to significantly address the area’s housing shortage, calling it “a great opportunity to reuse a historic building.”

Councilor John Tuttle said he has heard from many East Side residents who have been waiting decades for this property to be redeveloped, and are concerned that it will still be vacant in five years’ time. He said they are looking for an actual timeline when something will happen. Mr. Nimon responded that WinnDevelopment is a very talented organization with a lot of experience redeveloping former mill buildings. (According to its website, the company has successfully converted 32 historic properties into more than 3,100 units of mixed-income housing.) He has met with the architect and has looked at the plans. He said it will all come down to financing, but if all goes as planned, construction will begin early 2022, and be finished within 14 months. Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio added, “If there was ever a time when there’s money available for housing, this is it.”

Mr. Nimon also spoke very briefly about a possible new major high-tech agricultural investment in Sanford, which he described as a partnership between Maine and European companies to build greenhouses for the cultivation of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. He has had preliminary discussions with the Planning and Codes Departments and was able to reassure the principals that their project is doable. He will have more details once financing and property are secured.

Mr. Nimon also provided an update on the recent reorganization of the Growth Council. It originally consisted of three partners: the City of Sanford, the Industrial Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce. This year the Chamber was eliminated, leaving the Growth Council as a two-partner organization consisting of the City and the IDC. At the same time, the number of board members was increased from seven to eleven. The Board of Directors now consists of the Mayor, the City Manager, two representatives from the IDC, a large business employer appointed by the IDC, and a small business employer appointed by the City. The remaining board members will be representatives from five different sectors of the economy: finance or banking, business support services, building development, housing development, and higher education or workforce development.

The organization of the staff members has changed as well. A new position of Small Business Advocate is being created, which will replace the current Administrative Assistant position. The job description is still being worked out.

Mr. Nimon said the Growth Council’s mission remains the same, with a few tweaks. Business attraction is key, as well as business expansion and retention. Support for entrepreneurs and smaller companies will receive greater emphasis. Public/private partnerships are a new area of focus, as well as business advocacy and permitting.

He spoke about efforts to market Sanford Net Fiber, the City’s broadband network, to businesses. He said research revealed that many companies on the SNF backbone are unaware of the service or don’t understand what it can provide, and the Growth Council is working to correct that. He also said the bulk of the federal government grant money for the project, which has been held up for several years, is expected to be received this week or next.

Mr. Nimon thanked Councilor Ayn Hanselmann for alerting him to a grant opportunity from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. As a nonprofit, the Growth Council was eligible to apply in round two and secured a grant.

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