AUGUSTA

September 28, 2011

Bank, Goodwill planned for former Kennebec Journal site

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The property that formerly housed the Kennebec Journal will sprout four new buildings, with Bangor Savings Bank and Goodwill Industries of Northern New England as anchors.

Plans for redeveloping the 5.8-acre property that fronts Western Avenue have been submitted to the city in advance of a 7 p.m. public hearing Oct. 11.

At that meeting in City Center, the Planning Board will consider an application by developer Northland Enterprises LLC to demolish the 50,000-square-foot building and replace it with four separate buildings and parking.

The application envisions a two-story, 5,400-square-foot building to be occupied by Bangor Savings Bank close to Western Avenue, and a 17,000-square-foot Goodwill building, with a drive-through window for donations, along Senator Way.

Plans call for two other buildings: One is a 6,000-square-foot building behind the Irving gas station listed on application materials as "restaurant/retail"; the other is a 5,000-square-foot retail building along Crossing Way. The plans don't indicate tenants and owners for these sites on the plans. The buildings are on the perimeter of the property, with shared parking areas occupying the middle.

The application indicates the property is owned by MaineToday Media Augusta Properties LLC, and includes a copy of a June 23 purchase-and-sales agreement between Maine Today Media and Northland Enterprises, of Portland.

Plans are from Sitelines, PA, of Brunswick on behalf of Northland and MaineToday Media.

A letter from Bangor Savings Bank says Northland has "the expertise, management and financial capacity to complete the demolition, infrastructure and retail improvements for the project," and that the bank is considering financing the project.

Northland redeveloped the Baxter Library property in Portland.

Joshua Benthien, a partner in Northland Enterprises, said Tuesday that Northland is in the final stages of negotiations with tenants.

Benthien said he hopes to have the former Kennebec Journal building razed by the end of the year, and work on the building for the anchor tenant, Bangor Savings Bank, next spring.

Even though banking, retail and restaurant uses are permitted in the regional business zone at the site, the size of the property and the amount of planned impervious surface would trigger minor Planning Board review, city planner Matt Nazar said.

Nazar said the Planning Board could issue the permit the night of the hearing.

The development also needs a traffic movement permit from the state Department of Transportation and a site location of development permit from the Department of Environmental Protection.

The bank, which describes itself as Maine's largest independent bank, will make an announcement today about its plans.

Presentations will be by Jim Conlon, president and chief executive officer of Bangor Savings Bank; Joshua Benthien, of Northland Enterprises; city officials and Peter Thompson, president and chief executive officer of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"This expansion represents a multi-million dollar investment, new jobs to the Augusta area and a redevelopment of the former Kennebec Journal site," said Yellow Light Breen, executive vice president of Bangor Savings Bank.

Thompson said Wednesday there will be a net gain in jobs, particularly because of construction.

"I think it's anther positive step for the community in some tough economic times," Thompson said. "We have been very fortunate in this region. Particularly in the job area, we're still one of the lowest unemployment regions in the state of Maine."

Bangor Savings Bank is a state-chartered bank that reports almost $1.8 billion in assets, with 44 branch offices. It opened a branch in Augusta at 77 Capitol St., in March 2003.

Anthony Ronzio, editor and publisher of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, said the property sale should be finalized in October.

"Many of our employees had great success in that building, and all of us here wish the best for Bangor Savings Bank as they work to build a legacy of success on that site," Ronzio said.

MaineToday Media Inc., the parent company of the Kennebec Journal, bought the property in June 2009.

Last March, the Kennebec Journal vacated the building it had built in 1961, moving to offices in north Augusta at the Augusta Business Park and on Leighton Road.

Betty Adams -- 621-5631

badams@centralmaine.com

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