A national developer has plans to create workforce housing and retail spaces on a long vacant property at the entrance to downtown Bucksport.
Wishrock Development, a housing developer based in Portland, is looking to build a complex with 18 apartments and two storefronts at the town-owned Main Street lot that has sat unused for about nine years.
Though it’s still early in the process and Wishrock hasn’t formally submitted any applications, this is exactly the type of project town officials have been looking for to bolster Buckport’s growing downtown and add desperately needed housing. It’s also one of three apartment complexes in the works in Bucksport that could inject about 35 units into the community and aid the town’s rebound from the Verso paper mill closure in 2014.
Wishrock went before the town council on Thursday to ask for a letter of interest so it could apply for funding through a new state workforce housing program. Its current rough plans would include 12 two-bedroom apartments, six one-bedroom apartments, and two 600-foot stores.
It won’t be the first time the 27 Main St. property has been home to apartments. Before a fire in 2013, a set of apartment buildings used to sit there. The town bought the 1.1-acre lot in 2014, razed the charred apartments and put the property up for sale.
Several proposals have been bandied about since then, but the town hasn’t secured a buyer. People have proposed larger apartment complexes, restaurants and other developments but none have really gained steam.
Although the town worked with a consultant to draw up ready-made plans that developers could work off of to fit the town’s vision for its revitalization, Wishrock’s preliminary concept is different. Still, it ticks many of the same boxes as the premade plans. The company showed the council a sketch of a single, long two-level building with the stores on the ground floor.
“Even though it’s not as elaborate as that report was, it is in line with what the town would like to see there,” said Rich Rotella, Bucksport’s economic and community development director.
The letter of interest in no way binds Bucksport to the project and Rotella said there is another developer considering the site as well, but they’ve yet to come up with any solid plans.
Penn Lindsay, the Wishrock vice president of development, said his company’s project hinges on subsidies from the state and the town selling the land for $1.
Rotella said that’s been something other developers have sought out and it isn’t out of the question.
“For the right project, that’s always been on the table,” Rotella said.
Meanwhile, two other developers are making progress on two other apartment complexes. Larry Wahl, the owner of local ice cream stand Dairy Port, is entering the final stages of revingorating Wilson Hall, turning the 171-year old former seminary into a handful of apartments.
Chris Pepin is also working on building an 11-apartment complex at what’s known locally as the Timberlands Building. The property was once the site of an office at the paper mill.
This influx of housing is key to continuing the town’s transformation from a mill-less mill town to a sought-after destination, according to Rotella.
“That’s a missing piece here in town,” he said. “It’s definitely good to see. It’s been a long time coming.”