The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Harnois & Emery Apartments (Westbrook)

Each year, the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) recognizes some of the state’s most “noteworthy and significant” real estate projects, completed in the previous year. The exemplary projects from across the state, completed in 2021, not only embody MEREDA’s belief in responsible real estate development, but also exemplify best practices in the industry, contributing to Maine’s economic growth by significant investment of resources and job creation statewide.

This year, MEREDA honored projects from Portland to Biddeford to Bangor, with each receiving special recognition at MEREDA’s 2022 Spring Conference on May 24th.

In a multi-part series exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation. MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

MEREDA’s 2021 Top 7 recipients include:

Harold Alfond Hall, Husson University (Bangor)Harnois & Emery Apartments, Westbrook Housing, Westbrook Development Corporation, and Anew Development (Westbrook)
Thornton Heights Commons, South Portland Housing Development Corporation (South Portland)
Riverdam Mill Complex, Port Property (Biddeford)
40 Free Street, JB Brown & Sons & Ryan Senatore Architecture, (Portland)
Deering Place, Zachau Construction & Avesta Housing, (Portland)
Children’s Museum + Theatre Maine, Zachau Construction (Portland)

Please join us this week in celebrating Harnois & Emery Apartments.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Harnois & Emery Apartments:  Harnois & Emery Apartments is a two-phased, 91-unit apartment complex at 67 & 70 Ruth Hunton Court in Westbrook. Completed in January of 2021, Phase I is the 5-story, 61-unit Robert Harnois Apartments. In November of 2021, Phase II was completed; the 4-story, 30-unit Lewis Emery Apartments. These combined 91 apartments serve low-income Westbrook seniors with high-quality, beautiful, and affordable homes at a time of unprecedented housing need in the community. Resident amenities include outdoor gathering spaces, universal accessibility, a beautifully furnished 2,000 s.f multi-purpose room, a fitness center, laundry and community rooms, and a meandering nature path with benches set at scenic viewpoints.

The Harnois & Emery campus is set high on Deer Hill in a quiet, idyllic wooded setting providing residents with a calming connection to nature. At the same time, it is a short walk to Westbrook’s Main Street shopping district including the Kohl’s and Rock Row plazas as well as a Metro bus stop providing easy access across greater Portland.

Harnois & Emery Apartments were funded by a complex stack of capital sources and financial instruments made possible by MaineHousing, Boston Financial, the City of Westbrook, Westbrook Housing, and Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution. Westbrook Housing and Anew Development are grateful to the Harnois & Emery design and construction teams. Benchmark Construction provided excellent planning and oversight as the project’s Construction Manager. Archetype Architects, Gorrill-Palmer provided the innovative design and engineering services that
physically transformed the property and the attorneys at Drummond Woodsum guided the project with expert legal counsel.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the entire Riverview Terrace team, these 91 units of quality senior housing have been developed to serve Westbrook area seniors for generations to come in an environment that supports them not just with financial security but with independence, comfort, safety, social connectivity, and health and well-being.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project? 

Harnois & Emery Apartments: Westbrook Housing recognized a unique opportunity to address the unmet housing needs of lower-income Westbrook Seniors by developing a roughly 5.5-acre parcel of urban infill land using a blend of available Federal, State, local and private housing resources.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Harnois & Emery Apartments: Conceptual planning and due diligence began in 2013 and the project was finally fully permitted and funded by 2019.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

Harnois & Emery Apartments: The challenges facing the project were many. It started with the physical challenges presented by the site. Steep slopes, ledge, cross easements, and traffic control all presented significant design challenges. The project would never have moved past a concept without the skill and dedication of the design team at Archetype Architects and the engineering oversight of Steve Bushey at Gorrill Palmer. Given the high development costs created by the infill challenges presented by the site, the project was more difficult to fund than many. If not for the steadfast dedication of MaineHousing, Boston Financial, the City of Westbrook, and Westbrook Housing, the project would never have been possible.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

Harnois & Emery Apartments: The project taught us once again the massive importance of assembling a winning project development team. Affordable housing development is seldom or predictable but with a high-capacity, dedicated, and well-coordinated team of regulators, funders, designers, builders in place, challenges to the project’s success can be overcome.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Harnois & Emery Apartments: As developers, we have spent nearly 10 years planning and negotiating Harnois & Emery’s complex interplay of dollars, dates, and details. At the end of the day, however, the most notable outcome of the project is the immensely positive impact it has on its residents and the community at large. The 91 seniors who now call Harnois & Emery home now live with improved economic security, physical comfort, and social support. All of the developers’ hard work and challenges melt away in memory when they meet residents and hear them explain how important the project is to their lives and to members of their families and community support networks. While Harnois & Emery are, on their face, real estate developments, at their heart they are great feats of human and community development.

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