Former tannery site to go up for sale, again

By Stephanie Grinnell | Nov 27, 2012

Camden — The former Apollo Tannery site located at 116 Washington St. — owned by the town for nine years — will now be marketed by a commercial real estate broker on the recommendation of the Camden Economic Development Advisory Committee. Selectmen unanimously approved the suggestion, with the caveat town officials or CEDAC approach Watershed School about the property as well.

CEDAC Chairman Peter Gross told selectmen Tuesday night that the committee has been talking about the property for years, but specifically about listing it with a commercial broker for the past two meetings. He said the downturn in the economy stifled previous marketing efforts and while a number of other options were considered, the committee agreed selling the property would be most beneficial to the town.

“The consensus is that the sale of the land was better, preferable,” Gross said.

Other options considered included the town retaining ownership and creating a park, relocating the town farmers' market or using the property to encourage “incubator” business, he said. Reasons the committee unanimously supported sale of the property include paying off an existing bond from clean-up of the site and adding the property back on to town tax rolls, Gross said.

Selectman John French inquired about the current value of the property and expressed concern a broker may not be interested in light of a likely small commission; but Selectman Jim Heard pointed out the commission is a only small part of the deal, which ideally would allow a broker to participate in the larger future vision for the property. Gross said the current value is unknown and to determine it, an appraiser would have to be hired.

Selectman Leonard Lookner said he's heard talk since this summer when Watershed School moved to Camden of the potential of the former tannery to be the “perfect site” for the school's permanent home. He said the property is of little value currently but a school would be “an enormous asset.” Watershed School currently is housed in the former location of The Owl and Turtle bookstore on the first floor of Knox Mill.

Select Board Chairman Martin Cates agreed with Lookner and said approaching Watershed officials “makes perfect sense.” Selectman Don White also agreed with actively promoting the property.

“I'm very pleased to see that we're heading in this direction,” he said. “I think we are all looking for some positive results.”

“That's the first I've heard [of Watershed as an option],” Gross said, encouraging the select board to continue consideration of marketing the property. “At this point, the property is looking pretty sad.”

Gross noted a commercial real estate broker is more familiar with the market and potential buyers than town staff, who previously attempted to market the property through a controversial “land for jobs” marketing plan.

According to previously published reports, the land for jobs incentive required the buyer of the property to create 24 net new jobs within five years of completed construction and improvements on the site. If those conditions were met, the buyer would essentially gain the property at no cost, according to previously published reports. While there were a few interested parties — including B'D'Turman'd Entertainment LLC, which pulled out of negotiations after five weeks — ultimately the site has remained a town-owned property with little interest from buyers.

In 2011, residents at town meeting changed the requirement of a town referendum approving sale of the tannery property and instead authorized the select board to make the final decision, according to previously published reports. The property is still subject to redevelopment guidelines established by voters in 2008.

A request for proposals seeking a commercial broker will be created and managed by town staff, with CEDAC offering additional guidance. Cates noted RFPs returned to the town should answer any select board questions regarding value of the property.


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