Boosting Biddeford’s Revitalization

By Kathleen Hayden

TFIC and Sewall Company made a creative investment to address Biddeford, Maine’s parking challenges, and more municipal revitalization is already following

Maine is a small place, and often, big ideas came from brief encounters at the town hall or a chamber of commerce meeting. This was the case when George N. Campbell, Jr., Board Director of James W. Sewall Company, ran into Jim Bennett, Biddeford city manager, at a conference about downtown development initiatives. Biddeford, a once textile-rich Southern Maine city, is already experiencing a mini-renaissance fueled by restaurants, breweries and art studio owners who appreciate the reasonable rents available in repurposed brick factory space. Yet, as the two men discussed, parking had been a significant barrier for more business growth. The town’s hands were tied when it came to funding a parking garage without using any residential tax dollars and impacting the tax rate.

Enter James W. Sewall Company, Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure Capital (TFIC), and Amber Infrastructure, whose partners proposed a plan to build a parking garage funded through creative sourcing that would not increase the city’s residential tax rate. The first funding source was annual payments from the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenues, and the second was based on future fee revenues collected from the operation of the planned 640-space parking garage built on city-owned property, where the former Maine Energy Recovery Corp. incinerator was located.

At a September 2019 meeting, the Biddeford City Council voted to authorize the City Manager to enter into a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with TFIC and James W. Sewall Company to build a downtown parking garage and complete the next phase of the City’s RiverWalk, successfully funding a revitalization plan while reducing the property tax burden for residents and providing parking for current and planned development in the downtown and Mill District.

This combination of private and public financing is one piece of an infrastructure plan that has allowed an ambitious municipal vision to come together in significant ways that extend far beyond parking spaces. The project will boost Biddeford’s RiverWalk plan, and provide additional pedestrian connections between the parking structure and other areas of the downtown.

“Like Biddeford, many regions of the state need to reinvent their municipal futures due to changing economies,” said Stephen Jones, President/CEO of TFIC. “Most small cities and towns don’t have the financial structure to revitalize on their own. We see the Biddeford parking garage project as a great example of how private and public sectors can work together for the same goals.”

Mayor Alan Casavant cited the parking garage, which opened on July 15, 2021, as critical to the reemergence of Biddeford as a destination that can prosper beyond the “old stereotype of the city being nothing more than a dying mill town.” He sees the needed parking spaces as a catalyst for future development within the district.

More public and private investments are already adding up to make the Biddeford revitalization a reality. In April 2021, Mainebiz reported that a $1.2 million federal grant had been committed to upgrading roads, sidewalks, storm drainage, electrical conduits, telecommunications and sewer lines for developing Biddeford’s planned Pearl Street district.

An earlier article in Mainebiz interviewed investors Jim Brady and Brian Eng, who are committing millions to mixed hotel and retail projects in Biddeford. They want to create an innovative pedestrian, vehicle and bike traffic arrangement downtown. Their vision, modeled on a Dutch “woonerf,” or living street where cars drive slowly so that pedestrians and cyclists feel comfortable, reinforces the Riverwalk connections already being made in Biddeford.

Jones reflected on the project as the garage opened for business. “When we started the parking garage project, we were confident that more Biddeford progress would follow. TFIC was grateful to partner with Amber Infrastructure and to have the support of Mayor Casavant, Biddeford’s City Council and staff for their vision and dedication, especially in challenging times and economic uncertainties.” He continued, “Biddeford’s revitalization shows that creative investment and restructuring works, and we hope to support more of it in Maine. It takes a village to make a village, and today’s funding strategies need to be as creative and diverse as the many localized projects that are needed to revitalize more parts of our state.”