ROCKLAND, Maine ― Three waterfront properties that recently went up for sale on the north end of Rockland Harbor could bring a massive change to the city if they are sold to a developer, officials say.
The three properties that total nearly 9 acres are being marketed as one development. Falmouth-based F.O. Bailey Real Estate touts the property as an “incredible waterfront” opportunity with potential for hotel, restaurant, marina or retail development.
It could be a “seismic” change, according to city officials. The north end has largely retained its working-class roots as the city has grown into a destination over the last 20 years. But it will bring political complexity, and development is likely years away and reliant on a well-heeled developer willing to navigate the city’s strong working waterfront identity.
“This is not a place where you’re going to come in and do a typical — if there is such a thing — development down there,” said Terrence DeWan, a landscape architect hired by property owners to assess development potential. “It needs to somehow capture the spirit of what Rockland may be looking for in the future.”
The three parcels are now home to the North End Shipyard, a marina and boatyard that services schooners; Schooner Wharf, which leases pieces of its property to businesses including a local oil company; and SteelPro Inc., a metal fabrication company.
After owning the property for about 30 years, Peter Giustra said he and the other Schooner Wharf owners are ready to sell the property as they are all now in their 70s or 80s. Prior to the listing, SteelPro approached the owners of Schooner Wharf and indicated they needed more space and were likely going to move eventually, Giustra said. To expand development opportunities, F.O. Bailey approached the shipyard and asked if it was interested in selling.
“I don’t think there is anything like [this property] on the Maine coast right now,” Robert Baldacci, an associate broker with F.O. Bailey, said.
A price has not been disclosed for the properties, though Giustra said it will likely require a “big multi-million dollar” corporation to do any type of sustainable development there. Baldacci said the property has gained interest mostly from out-of-state buyers at this point.
The north end of Rockland Harbor’s waterfront is largely made up of marine-related businesses and the area has not seen the same level of development or interest as the city’s downtown and south end. But waterfront development elsewhere in the city has faced pushback and officials said any proposed development on the north end would likely see some opposition.
The planned expansion of a marina in Rockland Harbor faced substantial criticism when it was proposed in 2018, though it is still going forward. Two years ago, a proposed mixed-use development on Tillison Avenue was derailed after the chemical giant DuPont purchased the waterfront property eyed for development. The property abuts DuPont’s Rockland seaweed processing plant and that plant’s manager had expressed concerns about the proposal.
Abutters of the north end properties for sale include big names in Rockland’s marine industries, such as Prock Marine, a construction company, and O’Hara Corporation, which operates fishing fleets in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Prock Marine’s president declined comment on the properties being marketed, and an O’Hara representative did not return a Friday message.
“The north end has kind of remained this pretty solid working waterfront,” Ackor said. “So I feel like this is somewhat of a seismic shift here in terms of having these parcels go up for sale.”
At Giustra’s request, DeWan conducted a study of development opportunities for the Schooner Wharf and SteelPro properties. Based on current zoning, restaurants, retail shops, offices, hotels, marinas and some mixed-use residential space could be developed on the site.
However, DeWan stressed that any development here would likely be complex. With Rockland’s comprehensive plan currently being updated, the city is still in the process of determining its priorities for future growth. DeWan said that document will be key to understanding how receptive the city will be to prospective development, then the site will need its own plan.
It would likely take up to four years for any type of proposed development to be completed, Paul Peck, a Portland attorney, developer, and board member of the Maine Real Estate and Development Association, said.
“It’s not easy stuff,” Peck said. “How do you build community support? I think some of it is that you recognize that you’re going to get opposition and therefore you have to come up with a reasonable plan that’s going to get you your return on your money, that’s going to minimize your risk as much as possible but also give the community something in return.”
Between a new public access project and the potential for development on the properties for sale, city officials say the north end will inevitably slowly begin to change. However, they stressed that they would look for opportunities to preserve working waterfront where possible.
If a potential developer comes along, the city is also likely to wring some type of public benefit out of any proposal. That could include easements for extension of the city’s harbor trail.
“Anyone who buys those properties is going to have deep pockets, no question about it,” City Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf said. “For me, anytime properties on the water are going to go for sale, I’m always there for the asking.”