Six-screen cinema eyed for Freeport
By Beth Brogan, Times Record Staff
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 2:10 PM EDT
BRUNSWICK ? When the next Harry Potter movie rolls out the red carpet in November of this year, movie buffs in Freeport might be able to watch the film on one of six new screens in town.
Berenson Associates, developers of Freeport Village Station, hope to open a six-screen movie theater by the end of the year beneath the L.L. Bean Outlet at the corner of Mill and Depot streets.
?It could be really fun,? Al Yebba, chief operating officer of Berenson Associates, said Monday. ?It could be great for the town and great for the project.?
Although he declined to name the franchise until the Freeport Town Council has been notified, Yebba said he has identified a theater operator for the project.
Yebba has been working with town staff on a proposal for the theater, and the plans are in the final stages, he said. With the final approvals already in place to modify the building for the screens, ?the final piece of the puzzle is a TIF (tax-increment financing district), and we have a meeting with the council next week to discuss if it will come together.?
A tax-increment financing district is a locally approved plan that allows municipalities to earmark property taxes for economic development or other specific municipal uses. When new commercial development happens, a town can set aside the new taxes generated by the increase in valuation on the property and shelter it from county taxes and from the valuation formula for state aid to education.
Yebba confirmed that the council would be asked to approve a credit-enhancement TIF, which allows a municipality to return to a developer a portion of the property taxes paid on new valuation.
Freeport Village Station project broke ground in March 2008, a year-and-a-half after the Town Council amended an existing TIF to return to Berenson Associates $17.5 million in property taxes over 20 years. That money is earmarked to reimburse the developer for the cost of the 550-space parking garage included in the complex.
Since then, Yebba and various town staff have worked to develop a proposal for a
cinema, but Yebba said, ?These are very difficult things to do financially, and it?s taken a little bit of time. We?ve had to be very creative, but we?re just about there. With any luck, we?ll have it in there ... by the end of the year.?
Sandra Updegraph, director of Freeport Economic Development Corp., who has worked on the proposal with Town Manager Dale Olmstead, Town Planner Donna Larson and Finance Director Abigail Yacoben, said the project ?would really bring several different partners together to help make sure the financing is in place.?
?Bottom line, our goal has been to make Freeport more of a destination for folks,? Olmstead said Monday. ?We have a lot of people in Freeport ? residents and non-residents alike ? who ask what there is to do in Freeport besides shop ... there?s a lot of public interest in this.?
?It?s going to take a partnership involving Berenson, L.L. Bean and the town to make it happen,? Olmstead said of the cinema. ?The best ideas are going to be shared with the council in executive session on (July 6) ? what the town would need to do to make this happen.?
Should the council decide to move forward, a public hearing on the proposed TIF would be the next step.
?The theater itself is something the community really wants, and I know the Berenson folks really want it as well,? Updegraph said, pointing to a community survey conducted in 2007 for the town of Freeport by Market Decisions in Portland. Mailed to 2,513 households, the survey asked residents a series of questions, including what they would most like to see in town.
Of the 703 completed and returned surveys, ?Head and shoulders above any other request for a new business in town was a movie theater,? Updegraph said Monday.
Little more than a year after Freeport Village Station?s opening, a slew of retail outlets now occupies space in the 120,000-square-foot development. Just last month, international hamburger chain Johnny Rockets opened a franchise there. Yebba said Monday that by creating an ?entertainment zone? in town, people will have a reason to stay after retail shops close.
?Unless you give people a reason to stay (in town), they won?t,? Yebba said. ?It?s a way to appeal to people who don?t typically go to the downtown at that time of day ? a whole new customer base. We really need to make it as vibrant as possible.?