I read a story in the Sun Chronicle yesterday. It prompted me to write the following.
Permit me to quibble ever so slightly with the headline of your recent online article, “Biddeford, Saco mayors ask for state help in planning post-MERC.”
Most people probably read that and thought, ah, Biddeford and Saco have their hand out. The story itself, however, outlined how the mayors invited the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to come and grasp the extraordinary economic opportunities in Biddeford-Saco, now that the days of processing garbage in downtown Biddeford appear to be numbered. I bet the DECD commissioner will benefit from his visit just as much, if not more so, than the two cities.
I know of two downtown property owners who received several phone calls about buildings they own near MERC, the day after the Biddeford City Council voted 8-1 to secure the plant’s closure. The calls were inquiries to see if the owners would consider selling. This initial microburst of investment interest should surprise no one; it was foreshadowed by a 2005 study by economist Chuck Lawton of Planning Decisions in South Portland, who concluded that, “removal of objectionable activities from downtown areas in Maine has been followed by increased sales activity and rising property values.”
Biddeford-Saco is the economic cornerstone of York County, Maine’s fastest growing county. We all know the drill: I-95 access, beaches, Saco River, Amtrak station, close to Boston, spectacular, sturdy, affordable and well-maintained mill buildings beckoning entrepreneurs.
But there’s an exciting new catalyst in this mix. Perhaps for the first time ever, Biddeford’s city council is now playing chess, not checkers, on the issue of MERC and redevelopment. They’ve taken the long view, and wisely positioned this region to be an economic engine for Maine.
Beckoning entrepreneurs to Maine is the DECD commissioner’s job. Once he sees the portfolio of development opportunities here, soon to be unencumbered by MERC’s presence, then I think the light bulb will go on, and he will take the message back to Augusta: closing MERC is not solely a solid waste issue, it’s an economic development opportunity. A more accurate headline for your story would have been “Biddeford, Saco mayors offer to help DECD turn Maine’s economy around.”