Hobby Lobby Interest Discussed as Maine House Republicans Visit Aroostook Centre Mall
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) -
One week ago today, the Aroostook Centre Mall closed due to financial complications with the current owner. It soon reopened, with mall tenants doing everything they could to keep the lights on. While negotiations are ongoing for the still unnamed potential local buyer of the mall, members of state government are taking notice. NewsSource8′s Brian Bouchard has the story.
At around noon Sunday five Maine House Republicans from as far south has York County met with Aroostook Centre Mall Management and Presque Isle City Officials to discuss the current state and future of the Aroostook Centre Mall.
“The whole idea was to come and support the communities in Aroostook County and to show our presence and to show our love.” says Rep. Heidi Sampson – (R) Alfred
“We’ve been hearing about the challenges of not only this mall, but many malls across the state including the Bangor Mall, that’s had changes as well as this mall.” says Rep. Richard Campbell – (R) Orrington
In this meeting, the identity of the national chain seeking to occupy a large portion of the old K-Mart space was confirmed. According to Aroostook Centre Mall General Manager Bruce Brigman, Craft and home décor chain, Hobby Lobby, has invested nearly 80,000 dollars so far in opening a store at the Mall. Brigman says the mall has a signed lease from Hobby Lobby, however it hasn’t been executed as they await a potential new owner. Many believe that a store such has Hobby Lobby, could draw in Canadian shoppers from over the border.
“Living Close to the Bangor Area, I saw how many Canadian shoppers were coming to Bangor. What a wonderful opportunity for like a Hobby Lobby, or a Chic-Fil-A to come into our area, or Chipotle, and that would really ignite the fire to start saying “Hey lets go over there, have some lunch, hey lets go do a little shopping” We need that support, we’re no longer just a community that can support business but we need our Canadian neighbors also to come down.” says Rep. Gary Drinkwater – (R) Milford
In addition, the group also discussed a bill sponsored by Representative Richard Campbell of Orrington, which proposes vacant mall and retail spaces be used for a new purpose.
“My bill is focused on maybe a reuse, a repurpose of the mall. Maybe do some residential and then bring in different types of businesses in the mall areas to support a little village. Over the years the people have always come to the malls to walk, just for exercise so why not live there?” says Campbell.
Presque Isle City Councilor, Craig Green says he hopes something can be worked out in Campbell’s Vacant Mall bill in the form of a funding to help rehabilitate deteriorating retail properties. Green says funding such as the Northern Border Grants currently help small businesses in the area.
“But there is no such program that could help build out the big box stores for some of the retailers that have expressed interest in being here so the legislators were saying “Maybe we can add that into the bill and setup a specific competitive grant program for the state of Maine that would help with that kind of funding”” says Green.
With the identity of the potential local buyer, and the ultimate fate of the Aroostook Centre Mall still unknown, some discussed potential crowdfunding of the mall as a potential plan B.
“I wouldn’t even hesitate to put some of my money in it, what little I have, a little bit I can invest in crowdfunding, if they would re-purpose the mall and would like to have a local owner.” says Rep. Joseph Underwood – (R) Presque Isle
The group toured the mall, identifying opportunities and discussing potential future uses of mall space.
“I think moving forward there’s going to be a kind of a transformation on how this mall is looked at in terms of the community and the support that the communities got to put forward to keep it open and a different approach is probably needed.” says Rep. Austin Terriault – (R) Fort Kent
WAGM caught up with Maine Senate President Troy Jackson Monday afternoon, who says while all the details of Representative Campbell’s bill are not available yet, it’s something he’s open to, particularly in relation to the current lack of housing.
“I’m definitely going to be interested in anything like that that helps businesses have places to put workers. I don’t know what Representative Campbell’s actually got in mind but I’m open to it.” says Jackson
In a phone conversation Monday afternoon, Brigman says discussions between the owner of the mall and the potential local buyer are ongoing.
Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8
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