By MEREDA’s Immediate Past President, Michael O’Reilly, Bangor Savings Bank
Since its inception, MEREDA has continued to make progress on behalf of the development community addressing the challenges and issues relating to Maine’s real estate activities. MEREDA’s strength has always come from the support and participation of its valued members. While we look forward to the beginning of a new fiscal year, it is important that we take a moment to look back and reflect on our accomplishments, and take time to thank you, MEREDA’s members, (300+) for your investment in the Association over the year. Your continuing support is critical to our ability to maintain and increase our advocacy work, and programs and related services, which are vital to development interests in Maine.
It has been an honor to have served as MEREDA’s president these past two years, and I look forward to MEREDA’s continued growth and success. I am pleased to share with you below, an overview of MEREDA’s accomplishments this past year.
MEREDA’s Three Overarching Priorities. MEREDA serves members’ mutual interests in responsible development by advocating for fair and predictable regulation, hosting events rich with educational and industry insight, all the while providing opportunities to network with a diverse group of real estate professionals.
This year, one of MEREDA’s key achievements on the legislative front was the passage of the MEREDA sponsored bill to expedite the appeals process of land use decisions. For years, opponents to key development projects in Maine have used the court system as a tool to delay projects knowing that delay itself could cause projects to fail. In response to this problem, MEREDA introduced LD 775 to expedite the land use appeals process in Maine and help facilitate development throughout the State. “An Act to Streamline Judicial Review of Certain Land Use Decisions,” became law on April 19. Now, when a municipal land use decision on a significant project is appealed to Superior Court, any party will have the option of removing the case to the Business and Consumer Docket (“BCD”), and the BCD must accept the case. Unlike the regular docket of the Superior Court, the BCD aims to resolve its cases within 10 months. The new law improves predictability and efficiency in the local permitting process. April 14, 2016 Portland Press Herald Article – Law enacted to speed legal process for development disputes
MEREDA Monitors and Responds to other Legislation
Our active Public Policy Committee keeps a watchful eye on dozens of bills during every legislative session. This is a complicated and time consuming effort, but MEREDA has established itself as a voice of reason and an organization that can help Legislators understand the potential implications, both good and bad, of a particular piece of legislation or amendment. For example, the Committee tracked the progress of LD 713, a resolve regarding Shoreland Zoning that triggered MEREDA’s participation in a Shoreland Zoning Working Group last fall. Ultimately, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee sent letters to key state agencies to reinforce existing law and encourage greater education about compliance in the Shoreland Zone. MEREDA also followed up on a bill it opposed last year, LD 713, related to development in flood zones and tracked it this session until its demise. Each session brings new challenges and MEREDA will be prepared to review and respond to bills introduced in the next legislative session.
Education & Insight
MEREDA’s Morning Menu Meetings, Networking Events, Conferences
This year, MEREDA hosted a total of 16 events on topics ranging from construction workforce, commercial financing trends, historic tax credits, real estate partnerships, risk management at the statehouse, among others. MEREDA’s breakfast and social events held throughout the state bring together highly-regarded experts and cover a variety of topical subjects. From time to time, MEREDA also collaborates with other like-minded groups on various topics. This year, MEREDA partnered with Build Maine, the Portland Regional Chamber, and GrowSmart Maine.
MEREDA’s signature event, the annual Forecast Conference and Member Showcase in January attracted nearly 800 attendees, and this year’s Spring Conference had an all-time high of 280 attendees. Each year, MEREDA works hard to find forward thinking, trend-worthy topics for the annual spring conference, and each year continues to amaze us! This year we found out how the “Office of the Future” brings together place and technology, with real-world examples from Maine. Both events garnered several media mentions. In fact, the 2016 Forecast Conference dominated the headlines for a week, or more!
MEREDA Index – MEREDA continues to work with Dr. Charles Colgan at the Muskie School on the MEREDA Index, which serves as a barometer for development activity in the state’s real estate sector. Published biannually, the Index features supporting commentary by experts from key real estate sectors. The most recent edition of the MEREDA Index reflects a solid performance in the real estate market with a composite score of 90.7. While that number appears to have dropped from the previous release in the Fall of 2015, the cause of that relates to the effect of the three large transactions (100 Middle St., along with One and Two Portland Square). This effect is primarily felt in the commercial portion of the index and more specifically under square footage sold. However, the actual dip in commercial exclusive of these very large sales was small.
It is notable that the residential index was a primary positive driver in the overall index this spring. Sales of existing homes and new mortgage originations both saw strong increasing trends. The lack of existing housing stock is driving demand for new residential construction in both the single-family and condominium market. While the construction industry continues to deal with a workforce shortage, the construction component of the Index is exhibiting a gradual rise. In the past we have seen growth spurts in construction in the hospitality, senior housing and condominium markets, and the latest spike is in residential apartment building construction.
The opportunity to connect with a diverse network of real estate professionals and related service providers is a valued benefit of the MEREDA membership. Over the years, many beneficial business relationships have begun at one of our annual social events, conferences, breakfast forums, and even through committee work. This past year, MEREDA held 2 annual networking social events, along with providing separate socializing time at our annual Forecast & Spring conferences, which gave our members a total of 4 opportunities to get to know one another.
Workforce Development Issues
MEREDA is keenly aware of the shortage of skilled trades men and women in our great state and is beginning to explore ways in which we may be able to contribute and lend our resources to efforts to help educate, attract, and retain skilled workers, starting with our own students. An educated workforce is vital to support economic development. MEREDA’s “Strikes for Scholars” fundraiser allows us to put our dollars to work for education, and is just one way for us to lend a hand!
We are proud to support Maine students as they prepare for careers that aim to promote MEREDA’s mission of responsible development and ownership of real estate throughout the State. This year, MEREDA raised nearly $18,000 for scholarships for Maine students. MEREDA will be donating an additional $5,000 to this figure to be able to assist 16 students throughout the State achieve a college credential. Two students from each of the 7 community colleges, and 2 from the College of Science, Technology & Health at the University of Southern Maine (USM) will each receive a $1500 scholarship from MEREDA!
MEREDA’s leadership, members and volunteers are a vital part of Maine’s economy. Whether you look to us for education, advocacy, networking, or all three, this is an exciting time to be part of MEREDA!