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Priority Group cited as key in Brunswick Landing's continuing success

Priority Real Estate Group's new building, which houses CDI, is seen through the trees at the entrance to Brunswick Landing. Priority owns more than 40 acres along Admiral Fitch Avenue (foreground). Photo / Maureen MIlliken

BRUNSWICK — When Priority Real Estate Group was named 2017 Developer of the Year by the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority earlier this year, it probably wasn't a surprise to many familiar with the explosive success of the development at the former naval base.

By the end of the year, there will be 2,000 jobs on the campus, MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque recently said. Currently, 110 separate businesses employ nearly 1,700 on the 3,200-acre site.

Projects over the past six years by Priority, one of nine real estate firms doing business on the campus, represent a $40 million investment, have created more than 800 jobs and contribute $400,000 a year in property taxes to Brunswick, according to the MRRA.

In the developer of the year announcement, Levesque said the developer's acquisition and "innovative revitalization of existing buildings and new construction" has been a key catalyst to the base reuse success.

Priority, which developed the 50,000-square-foot Navy Exchange that houses the Wayfair call center, among other projects at Brunswick Landing, is now focused on new construction, said Jim Howard, Priority president and CEO.

The company just completed a 11,700-square-foot building at the entrance to the campus, on the corner of Bath Road (Route 24) and Admiral Fitch Drive.

The Center for Diagnostic Imaging recently moved into 6,500 square feet in the building. There is still 5,200 square feet available for lease, Howard said.

The outpatient-based diagnostic imaging center's services include high-field MRI, CT scans and x-ray. The company has nine centers in Maine, as well as in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

That building is the first of three medical professional buildings Priority is building along the edge of Brunswick Landing on Bath Road, Howard said.

"There are very few buildings left to lease there," he said. "Most of what happens in the future will be new construction."

Priority owns 40 acres at the main entrance of Brunswick landing on Admiral Fitch Avenue, "all the way down to the second airplane."

The two "airplanes," vintage craft that once were the bread and butter of the base, are almost all that's left as reminders of what was once there.

Buildings, including many on Priority land, have been torn down. Others have been renovated.

Howard said the company plans $20 million worth of projects in the next 24 to 30 months.

Next wave of expansion

Wayfair, one of Brunswick Landing's biggest employers, is undergoing an expansion that will add employees at the site. Photo / Maureen Milliken

One major Priority project is within the former Navy Exchange building that now houses the Wayfair call center, Brunswick Landing's biggest employer.

Priority initially renovated most of the the 50,000-square-foot building at a cost of $5 million. Renovations have started on an unused 8,500 square feet, which he said will add 150 employees, bringing the total onsite to more than 500.

Howard said the "next wave of expansion" will include 35,000 square feet of new construction next door. Other projects, closer to the outer ring of the campus will be "more professional, not the industrial we've seen so far."

MRRA's Levesque said last month that much of the wooded rolling area that abuts Route 24 will be developed into an office-park area, different from the flat, open industrial space in the interior of the campus.

Priority also leases to Brunswick Landing's third-largest employer, Pathways, which employs 220, and includes a day care, administrative offices and a school for people with autism, as well as several other businesses, big and small, on the site.

Projects across Maine

The former National Guard armory in South Portland was recently renovated by Priority Group. Photo / Maureen MIlliken

Priority also owns the property for the new Irving gas station across an expanse of vacant space from the new CDI building, as well as the new Tucker Ford location at 262 Bath Road. The dealership moved there from Pleasant Street in Brunswick.

Tucker is one of three Ford dealership new locations Priority is involved with, Howard said. Other projects are Rockland Ford in Thomaston and expansion of Yankee Ford on Waterman Road in South Portland.

In South Portland, Priority renovated the 1941 10,000-square-foot art deco former National Guard armory head house on Broadway, a $5.2 million job.

The building had been in disrepair and the renovation restored the original architectural elements of the building.

"It was a successful project," Howard said. "A way to reuse that old building and bring it back to its former glory."

Riverview Martial Arts is the second-floor tenant and a Rusty Lantern store occupies the first floor, accompanied by an Irving gas station behind the building, where the drill area of the armory building once was.

While Priority mostly does commercial projects, it is building 38 single family homes on 40 acres at the former Twin Falls golf course in Westbrook.

"It's a great piece of property and a good location," he said. He said the low housing inventory in the area added to the appeal of the project.

'We'll fill 'em'

Map / town of Brunswick

A map shows the planned access road from Gurnet Road (Route 24) into Brunswick Landing.

But Priority's biggest focus and impact is at Brunswick Landing, where the company is among the largest of the the 21 property owners at the site, behind the MRRA, the town of Brunswick, the Navy, Bowdoin College, Affordable Maine Housing, Brunswick Landing Ventures and the state.

With 45.2 acres, it's the largest commercial real estate property owner.

When the base closed, "We all tried to envision what it would become," Howard said. "Some people said it didn't have a chance.

"I'd like to say [Brunswick Landing's success] happened fast, but it was five years of nothing happening" as plans percolated into the recent burst of development.

He, like Levesque and others, point to increased real estate activity at the Cooks Corner shopping area, right outside the gates, as the domino effect of that success.

Aiding development is a quarter-mile access road that will connect Gurnet Road, which is Route 24 south to Harpswell to Brunswick Landing.

The road will cut behind the Cooks Corner Shopping Center and ease traffic at the busy intersection of Gurnet and Bath roads and allow motorists to access the residential part of Brunswick Landing without having to turn onto Bath Road and go to Admiral Fitch Avenue.

"There's was a time when I'd go 'I don't know what to do with all these buildings,'" he said. "Now I wish I had two of each, because we'll fill 'em."

by Maureen Milliken

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