Madawaska town manager and economic director pushing potential for plaza
MADAWASKA, Maine — Town officials are brainstorming ideas to find potential retailers to revive the mostly vacant downtown shopping center that the town acquired at the end of December and are hoping to make the proximity to Canada and its large population of potential shoppers a selling point.
Despite the exodus, optimism emerged at the close of the year when the Connecticut based Mid-Town Realty Associates, donated all of the property and buildings adjacent to, but not including the former Kmart structure, to the town.
Town Manager Gary Picard released a statement on New Year’s Eve indicating that the on Dec. 27, the Select Board had agreed to accept the property which the firm will deduct as a charitable tax contribution.
Madawaska selectmen ultimately concluded that the acquisition made sense as the municipality seeks to revitalize the downtown and the community as a whole.
“I think we have some really good things going on in Madawaska in the short term, in terms of revitalizing our downtown,” Keith Cyr, Madawaska’s economic development director, said on Jan. 8. “We have a new bridge coming in; there’s just going to be a lot of activity in this region over the next 4-5 years.”
Picard stressed, however, that the town ”is not in the business of leasing or rehabilitating buildings. Our goal is to make it a little easier for an investor to come in and redevelop those properties.”
The town manager went on to share the many social media suggestions and other comments he receives almost daily from citizens about the possibilities for the plaza. He said the most requested retailer that area residents would like to see move to town is Target.
Former Economic Development Director Suzie Paradis also used to receive requests to pursue Target even when Kmart was still in town.
“All of these retailers look at population, which is the single most limiting factor as to whether or not they are going to locate to the area,” Picard said on Jan. 8 as he and Cyr shared their thoughts with the Fiddlehead Focus.
There could, however, be a way to make a stronger case to major retailers like Target and the TJX Company which operates TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Home Goods, the town manager said.
“We’re going to make some efforts to reach out with some information about things like traffic counts and population from a geographic area, not just including Madawaska, but Canada as well,” Picard said.
Unfortunately, big box retailers like Burlington require a population of over 200,000 people in a town or city they would consider, according to Cyr. But Cyr said that isn’t going to stop him from making the calls and doing everything he can to lure them to the area.
“A lot of these major U.S. retailers base their decisions on population numbers and they stop right at the border, they don’t cross the bridge,” he said. “So, part of the narrative I am trying to build includes our friends in Canada who shop here frequently. If we have the right mix [of stores] could we become a place that people might drive 30-45 minutes from Canada to come here? Maybe.”
Former Madawaska town manager and now Aroostook County Commissioner Ryan D. Pelletier said he is happy the town acquired the commercial property and sees it as a positive not only for the community, but for the region as well.
“I have no specific suggestions for reuse of the property except that whatever types of business development happens needs to be something that will draw Canadian traffic,” Pelletier said. “The population base of northwest New Brunswick and even into the southern parts of Quebec province needs to be welcomed and tapped for future economic growth in our region.”
Both Picard and Cyr said they are not going to give up on a big box retail store or any possibility, and have encouraged the public to join in on the conversation. They also said they wanted to remind the public that the “sky isn’t falling.”
“It’s easy to focus on the bad, and forget about the good,” Picard said.
Cyr said anyone is welcome to call his office at 728-3612 or stop by the office of the economic development director on the main floor of the town office right next to Picard’s office.
Town officials also were expected to discuss the property at the Select Board meeting on Jan. 15.