The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Riverdam (Biddeford)

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 Riverdam.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Riverdam: Riverdam consists of two 19th century industrial buildings, nestled along the banks of the Saco River in Biddeford’s vibrant and evolving Mill District. Built in 1842 to produce machinery for the area’s booming textile industry, the historic Riverdam Mill Complex had been mostly underutilized and vacant but for two commercial tenants in recent years. This renovation project revitalized the Riverdam Mill Complex into the distinguished living community it is today. Riverdam is now fully leased and features 71 modern units and a variety of local commercial tenants, including restaurant and brewery, Blaze Brewing Co. and wellness co-op space, ToGather.

Throughout the project, it was of the utmost importance to honor the rich history of the buildings and preserve the intricate details of each space. Exposed brick, beams, and high ceilings were combined with elevated community amenities – including a state-of-the-art fitness center, rooftop space, and resident lounge – to create a distinctive and desirable live-work-play environment right on the Saco River.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project? 

Riverdam:  Built to accommodate the heightened demand of Biddeford’s housing market, Riverdam aimed to create much needed housing while fostering community connections within downtown Biddeford. The purchase and redevelopment of the Riverdam Mill Complex contributes to the City of Biddeford’s planned growth of downtown’s historic Mill District.

A primary goal throughout the project was to preserve the authentic characteristics of a 19th century industrial building while offering amenities unmatched in the area – including the uniqueness and individuality of each floorplan within the Riverdam community. Each Riverdam unit showcases an entirely unique floorplan, leveraging the building’s historic features and thoughtful preservation process.

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

Riverdam: The planning stages of this project took about 8 months to complete. Both mill properties were purchased in 2019, with the first phase of construction beginning in early 2020. Our A&D team worked hand-in-hand with our in-house construction team to create floorplans that both embraced and enhanced the characteristics of Riverdam’s “industrial contemporary” design. In 2021, we officially capped off construction on our last round of one-bedrooms and completed final touches to our amenity spaces.

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

Riverdam: As the Riverdam Mill Complex is a historic property, it did not come without surprises or challenges! During renovations, the interiors of both buildings were fully gutted. We preserved the site’s original brick, beams, and oversized mill windows for reinstallation.

Although challenging, historic rehabilitation projects are always incredibly gratifying as they breathe new life into an underused building and can revitalize the surrounding area. One of the major challenges was a structural issue within Building 3. A 2,000 square-foot area of the masonry wall was compromised, requiring careful attention. This back corner was ultimately reconstructed into a riverfront easement that allowed for the expansion of the RiverWalk – a walking bridge and trail which offers pedestrian access to the Saco River.

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

Riverdam: The impact of collaboration. From the performance of our construction team to the vision of our architecture and design teams, the level of collaboration and quality was at a level higher than we could’ve ever hoped for. One of the most impactful and mutually beneficial elements of collaboration was between our team and the City of Biddeford. Stemming from the structural challenges at Building 3, the City of Biddeford provided financing for the project in exchange for our team’s assistance in expanding the RiverWalk and creating ADA access via an elevator. This was a true win-win situation, as it created an even closer partnership with the City of Biddeford and enabled us to prioritize the surrounding community.

Riverdam highlights the positive impact of a community effort – offering vital housing for the City’s growing population while fostering a riverside destination for neighbors, residents, and patrons within the Biddeford-Saco area and beyond.

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

Riverdam: It’s hard to pick just one! From the individual floorplans to the historic features to its scenic location, Riverdam is truly unique. Riverdam’s setting may be its most notable feature, as this applies to its geographic location along the Saco River as well as its setting within the Biddeford-Saco community and the nearby RiverWalk.

Riverdam sits directly on the river’s edge overlooking a series of waterfalls. Our direct access to the RiverWalk opens up the community to not only our residents, but to all visitors and neighbors of Biddeford. We’re proud to put forth such a distinct community and to play a role in Biddeford’s economic, culinary and cultural renaissance.

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