2017-12-15 / Front Page

Downs sale is imminent

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Scarborough Downs could soon be under the new ownership of Crossroads Holdings LLC, a partnership of the Risbara and Michaud families, but harness racing will still be offered at the track for the foreseeable future. Crossroads Holdings will lease back to the Terry family the 60+ acres the track operates on. (File photo) Scarborough Downs could soon be under the new ownership of Crossroads Holdings LLC, a partnership of the Risbara and Michaud families, but harness racing will still be offered at the track for the foreseeable future. Crossroads Holdings will lease back to the Terry family the 60+ acres the track operates on. (File photo) The Scarborough Downs property has been owned by the Terry family for years and is set to be sold to two other Scarborough families that have ties to two long-standing Maine businesses.

The 500-acre Scarborough Downs property is under contract to be sold to Crossroads Holdings LLC, which is made up of William, Marc and Rocco Risbara III, who operate Risbara Bros. and Peter and Richard Michaud, formerly of Michaud Distributors, a regional snack distributor that was operated by the Michaud family from 1980 to 2013, when it was sold. Risbara Bros. was founded in 1968 by Rocco Jr. and Maria, who operated it before passing the business onto their sons in 1980.

“As lifelong residents and business owners we believe Scarborough is the best town in Maine. We were raised here. We raised our kids here and we hope that our grandkids will be raised here too. We care about our town’s future and it would be a privilege for us to develop this land,” Rocco Risbara III said in a release announcing the development team, which has previously team up as founders and co-owners of other Scarborough-based companies, including Maine Properties LLC and M&R Holdings.

The management of Scarborough Downs sees the Risbaras and Michauds as the perfect group to take over the property, the site of horse racing for more than 60 years.

Our family and employees are excited to work with respected, local business owners,” Denise Terry, owner of Scarborough Downs said in the release. “For years, we sought after prospective buyers that were connected to the community and willing to work toward the preservation of our heritage. The Risbara and Michaud families present a perfect match.”

Earlier this year, it looked like the property was going to be sold to Scarborough Downs LLC, a company formed by Thomas Powers, of Cohasset, Massachusetts, but the deal eventually ended up falling through.

“I am extremely happy it is a local firm that has a vested interest in our town and how it turns out,” long range planning committee member Allen Paul said of Crossroads Holdings taking over the property. “That, to me, is extremely important.”

Chris Caiazzo, the council’s liaison to the long range planning committee called this a “great opportunity” for the Risbaras, Michauds and town of Scarborough.

Risbara, who said he expects to close on the property in early 2018, spent some time Dec. 8 explaining Crossroads Holdings’ preliminary vision for the property. A workshop with the town council on the topic is set for Wednesday, Jan. 3.

“At this point in time, I don’t see any reason why the property won’t close,” Risbara said.

Risbara said he and the Michauds are still early in the process in terms of how the property could be used and has formed a team to help the firm through the process, including former town planner Dan Bacon, now a planning project manager at Gorrill Palmer in South Portland; landscape architects Nick and Caitlin Aceto, of Aceto Landscape Architects in Portland and Mark Hampton, of Mark Hampton Associates in Portland, who will be looking into wetlands delineation. The team behind the project also includes Owen Haskell Inc. and S.W. Cole Engineering, as well as Jim Damicis, of Camoin Associates, who will be doing a market study.

“We want to understand what the market is today and what it might be in the future,” Risbara said.

Long range committee member and planning board chairman Corey Fellows said “it seems like this is the right team at the right time.”

While the use plan for the property is still being developed, Crossroads Holdings has agreed to lease the 69 acres the harness track operates on back to Scarborough Downs at least in the short term.

“We think it is a 15-20 year development plan. It could even be longer,” Risbara said. “That’s why we are fine with the track still operating as it has. It keeps the 60-plus employees employed.”

It is welcomed news to the Maine Harness Horseman’s Association and harness racing fans.

“Continued racing is crucial for the industry and for the fairs,” association member Mike Cushing told the Leader in March. “Nine of the fairs depend on harness racing. Without a commercial track to keep people involved, we risk losing a proper supply to fulfill horse racing at fairs and anywhere else we go.”

How the property is developed will be dictated not only by market demands, but also by the guidelines set out for the Crossroads Planned Development District, a zoning district established by the town council in August 2013. The district, according to the town’s zoning ordinance, “allow a mix of uses, guided by design standards and a conceptual master plan, which results in a vibrant center for development located in the heart of Scarborough.”

Bacon said the Crossroads district will makes sure the property develops into a “special place for the community,” with a mixture of uses.

According to an introduction to the project handed out at the Dec. 8 meeting, the vision is to develop much of the land into a mixed-use community with housing for a variety of ages, commercial and office development, as well as areas for entertainment, amusement and both passive and active recreation. Bacon said the property will also have a series of interconnected pedestrian-friendly streets and a greenway that could be used as a boundary between residential and commercial uses. Because the property is located in the Crossroads Planned Development District, Town Planner Jay Chace said 10 percent of the development’s housing must be affordable housing.

Planning board alternate Rachel Hendrickson, who lived in a planned community of Reston, Virginia, said the zoning provides a “wonderful opportunity to get creative” with different types of architecture as well as smaller town centers within the expansive property.

Risbara said he anticipates 300 acres of the property is developable. Much of the development could occur around where the track in now and in the northwest corner of the property. Small pods of development could be possible by Payne Road and Route 1, as well as on the other side of Scarborough Downs Road, although most of the land between Scarborough Downs Road and Haigis Parkway could be left as open space.

Paul said he would like to make sure the development team examine how the development might impact town infrastructure and services early on so the town can budget and plan for any necessary improvements. He also wanted to make sure the Portland Water District and Scarborough Sanitary District have the capacity to take on the additional load from the project.

A master plan for the property he said is important because it is difficult to make a project of this size work in piecemeal fashion.

The layout is an important piece of the early planning work. Bacon said development trends will change as the site gets developed, but the layout shouldn’t if it is well thought out.

The site is now accessible from Payne Road or Route 1, but could have connections to Haigis Parkway and Sawyer Road as well. Long range planning committee member and planning board member Susan Auglis said how the property connects with abutting properties is important to cut down on the congestion that already exists on Route 1, which this project will undoubtedly contribute to.

Risbara said it would make sense to connect to Sawyer Road – most likely near where Sawyer Road turns toward Gorham Road.

“From a planning perspective, I think it is important we go some connection there,” he said.

Rick Shinay, a member of the long range planning committee, suggested in time, the main entrance to the property be a road that connects to Haigis Parkway rather than Scarborough Downs Road, which spans from Route 1 to Payne Road. He said he would hate to see development established on either side of a busy road, which would impact the pedestrian friendliness of the property. Doing that could also spur development on Haigis Parkway.

Long range committee members said public input would be a critical piece of how the property develops, a sentiment shared by the development team.

“This is about as big as it gets for Scarborough, so it is going to take a good (public relations) campaign. There is going to be NIMBY (not in my back yard). This is going to take a lot of sacrifice for the good of Scarborough,” long range planning committee member Susan Auglis said.

Diana Nelson, of Black Fly Media, has been brought on to assist with marketing, branding, advertising and public relations of the project.

Fellows said a “paper doll exercise,” in which other developments are cut out of GPS mapping printouts and place atop a map of the property, may help the public get a sense of the scale of the property and how it could be used

“Something like that would be helpful throughout the process,” he said.

While the development schedule of this multi-phased project is far from set, Bacon said it may be wise to phase the project from the edges of the property so to not disrupt the operation of the track.

Crossroads Holdings expects to be before the planning board with an initial draft of the plan by early 2018. Bacon said the permitting for the first phase of the project may be in hand the first half of 2018.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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