BANGOR — Tom Valley and Michael Eremita had been navigators at Dow Air Force Base before leaving the military and starting a construction business in 1956.
Now, after more than 40 years of developing and building projects around Bangor and in other communities, the pair are focused on the first phase of a cluster mall project scheduled to start this summer on 10 2/3 acres of airport land at 1010 Union St.
Valley’s and Eremita’s company, CMI, was given tentative developer status on the parcel last August and a rezoning in September. Architect Rob Frank of WBRC has submitted a site plan for three structures to be built during the first phase of the project.
Scheduled for the section of the plot across from Midas Muffler and McDonald’s are:
An 18,500-square-foot retail and office building, part of which will house a branch of a local bank with a drive-through window. An insurance office and a tanning business are expected to locate in the $1.4 million building.
A 15,000-square-foot retail and office building, costing about $1.1 million to construct.
A 3,000-square-foot restaurant, to be built at a cost of about $1 million. The restaurant would provide its own building with a drive-through window.
The names of the tenants will be available once the leases are signed, Valley said. “We can’t sign the leases until the city OKs the plan and the planning board approves it.”
The actual purchase of the property, at the market price of $35,000 an acre, will take place after the city approvals. Proceeds will be placed in the airport’s reserve fund.
Valley hopes the first building will go up this summer, with the other two not far behind. “A couple of tenants would like to get in in September,” he said.
“We’re looking to doing the first phase immediately, this year, and hopefully get some interest through the winter” in the remainder of the parcel, Valley said.
The second phase of the project probably will comprise three more buildings. Already a “major company” known nationally is doing market studies with the idea of building a 3,000-square-foot structure on the site, he said.
“We use all local contractors,” Valley said, as well as local attorneys, architects, engineers, banks and site designers.
CMI may be known best for projects such as the Crossroads mall and Mid Mall in the Hogan Road area. The company also has built apartments for low-income and elderly people and some single-family homes.
A few projects have been constructed in Portland and communities near Bangor, “but we haven’t strayed too far from Bangor,” Valley said. “Bangor is our home.”
There’s a lot of nostalgia, certainly, in planning a project for part of the former Dow Air Force Base. But it’s a good business step, too, Valley believes.
“The base has such a fantastic potential for growth. That’s a tremendous piece of land the city has to manage out there,” he said of another parcel, the 85 acres on Maine Avenue the city got back from the federal government last year.
CMI has had to revise its plans somewhat since IGA pulled out of the project. The supermarket had hoped to become an anchor store in the cluster mall after closing its doors in the Westgate Mall, which is being converted into an office building for Eastern Maine Healthcare. Owners of the IGA decided that participating in the mall project wasn’t within their financial means.
City officials have been helpful in CMI’s development project, Valley said.
“I think the city wants to see development out here,” he said, especially considering improvements already underway in the area, such as the Westgate Mall renovation. “They want to see some tax dollars” from the city land that CMI is going to buy, Valley said.
Even before the site development plan is submitted, CMI is keeping the city apprised of what’s happening.
“The option agreement requires submittal of plans for review by the city,” said Assistant City Solicitor Norman Heitmann.
“There will be issues of zoning, code issues,” he said. “What’s going to be an issue are curb cuts, on both sides of the subdivision.”
One of the driveways is on Maine Avenue, while the other two would be situated fairly close together on Union Street.
There will be discussion of that question and about traffic, Heitmann said.
“We have to meet with their engineer and architects,” said Rodney McKay, director of community and economic development.
CMI has some prospective tenants who would like to be up and running by Sept. 1, but that’s a tentative date. One of the three buildings is set for land that may not be available much before then.
Maine Energy Propane Inc. has a 30,000-gallon propane tank at the rear of the property, and its lease doesn’t run out until Sept. 1. But the city is offering a lease in a new location behind the city’s motor pool, a lease that the community and economic development committee approved Wednesday. That measure will come up before the City Council on Monday.
“We’re working to relocate them,” McKay said.
Valley hopes new activity on various parts of Union Street will revitalize the whole area. The Airport Mall is looking for a new tenant for the former Rich’s Department Store, and a gas station nearby is being replaced by a larger facility with a convenience store. Messiah Baptist Church is putting up a new house of worship on a large parcel behind Dunkin’ Donuts, and Eastern Maine Healthcare’s renovation of Westgate Mall will include a two-story addition for medical offices.
New life for the base and its neighborhood — it’s enough to gladden the hearts of a couple of proud navigators.