The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Rock Row Phase 1 Retail Center

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 2020, 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 Pittsfield to Bangor, with each receiving special recognition at MEREDA’s 2021 Virtual Spring Conference on May 20th.

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 2020 Top 6 recipients include:

Rock Row Phase 1 Retail Center, Waterstone Properties Group (Westbrook)
82 Hanover Street, Port Property Management (Portland)
Hospice of Southern Maine, Zachau Construction / SMRT (Scarborough)
Solterra, Portland Housing Authority (Portland)
One Merchants Plaza, Sky Villa Properties (Bangor)
Puritan Medical COVID –Building Expansion (P2), Puritan Medical Products (Pittsfield)

Please join us this week in celebrating Rock Row, Phase 1 Retail Center.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Waterstone: Rock Row is unlike any other development in the world. Situated on 110-acres, the $600 million Rock Row development in Greater Portland features more than two million square feet of mixed-use office, medical and research, retail, food hall, restaurants and residential space—all designed around a magnificent, 400-foot-wide natural stone quarry that is filled with water.

When complete, Rock Row will be the second largest retail and mixed-use development in New England. Highlights include:

• 400,000 sq. ft. of Modern Class-A Office Space, including Maine’s first Cross-Laminated-Timber (CLT) Office Tower
• 200,000 sq. ft. Medical & Research Campus anchored by New England Cancer Specialists
• 300,000 sq. ft. of Retail, Dining, Entertainment & Services featuring local, regional and national brands in an open-air, downtown-block shopping district
• 20,000 sq. ft. Food Hall featuring 550 seats, 15 stations, 7 spirit tasting rooms, live music, onsite brews and exciting events
• 20+ Restaurants ranging from cool-casual to chef driven
• 750 Distinctive Studio, One- & Two-Bedroom Residences

With more than six million guests expected to visit Rock Row each year, a key element of the project is Maine’s First CLT Office Tower—a stunning, 200,000 sq. ft., six-floor, cross-laminated-timber tower that promises to be one of the top office location in the Northeast, fueled by Rock Row’s modern mix of amenities and assets that drive talent acquisition and retention.

The tower’s unique CLT attributes promote workplace health and productivity while delivering 66% less energy costs, greater sound absorption/noise cancellation and unobstructed site lines to the quarry via 12’ floor-to-ceiling windows that cascade streams of natural light to nearly every work area.

““It’s not an overstatement to say that 100 Rock Row will be the most innovative, collaborative, and healthiest work environment in all of New England,” said Josh Levy, co-founding principal of Waterstone, the owners and developers of Rock Row. “More than an office address, 100 Rock Row is a business advantage that promotes business success. Bright places spark bright people. Fresh air promotes fresh thinking. Add the unobstructed quarry views, unmatched amenities and thought-sharing events at Rock Row and you get a place that people want to be at long after the workday is done.”

Another top attraction at Rock Row will be Maine’s Largest Meeting & Convention Center—an 8,200-person capacity, state-of-the-art venue that’s sub-dividable to host more than 200 public and private events year round, including performances from A-list artists through a partnership with LiveNation.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project? 

Waterstone:  While factors like location and market-need certainly came into play, the quarry was an impetus for the project.

When Waterstone purchased the former quarry in 2017, it was being permitted for a big-box retail store by developers. Completing that process and taking “the easy route” was never an option for Waterstone. It was quickly determined that the natural features of the quarry should be leveraged to create a gathering place for all that was exciting and memorable; a destination that would make a positive impact on the lives of everyone who live, work, shop and visit in the region.

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

Waterstone: Unlike most developments where you get approval and build, this is a dynamic project that is unfolding in multiple phases. While that in itself poses challenges, it also offers great opportunities. For example, an area that was originally targeted for office and residential turned out to be the perfect location for the integrated Medical & Research Campus that is starting construction this fall. The City of Westbrook could not be better to work with as we navigate through the development design. We work with the mayor and city leaders very closely and have a tremendous amount of respect for the project, and each other.

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

Waterstone: Having more than two-million square feet of mixed-use space available at Rock Row, we are absolutely obsessed with using each square foot the right way and fitting each square foot with the right tenant. Our goal isn’t to fill space, but to create amazing, unexpected and ongoing experiences at every turn. We want this to be an extension and elevation of life for all who work, live, shop and play here. So far, our efforts are paying off.

Phase One of Rock Row, which is community-retail focused, started in 2017and is nearing completion. This phase is reaching 100% lease capacity with tenants that include an 80,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art Market Basket supermarket (open), REI, Firehouse Subs, Big Fin Poke, The Paper Store (open), Chase (under construction), Chick-fil-A and Starbucks.

Other announced Rock Row tenants include a 122-room boutique Element Hotel by Westin, 12-screen Cinemark Theater, LIVE NATION Maine Savings Pavilion (open) and the previously-mentioned 200,000 sq. ft. fully-integrated Rock Row Medical & Research Campus, anchored by renowned New England Cancer Specialists/Dana Farber Cancer Institute (scheduled opening in late 2023).

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

Waterstone: From a community standpoint, we are continually amazed at how excited people are about Rock Row. Many of our social media posts have received several thousand likes and we are constantly fielding questions of interest, such as “when is REI opening” and “how much office space is available in the CLT tower”. Seeing our community get excited about Rock Row is something that excites us.

From a development standpoint, we discovered that Maine offers so much more than lobster rolls and natural beauty. This is a state that fosters innovative companies and breakthrough thinkers and has a rich history of leadership in commerce and industry. With more residents, workers and businesses leaving big cities and embracing the beauty and lifestyle of Maine, Maine is poised to flourish as an emerging business hub.

As Maine’s premier Innovation District, Rock Row will play a key role in supporting the state’s focus on emerging industries and economic growth by creating a supportive environment that helps people and businesses grow and succeed in every way. Rock Row’s rich mix of physical and networking assets—from educational events that spark growth and innovation, to public gathering spaces that invite collaboration—will combine to create a 24/7 community full of ideas, creativity, risk taking and enriched living. Rock Row will be the shining model of Maine’s new outreach as a “State of Innovation”.

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

Waterstone:  We like to say there is “discovery at every turn” at Rock Row, so it’s hard to choose one notable element of the two-million-plus-square-feet development. Certainly, the quarry will be the most notable and memorable physical feature. Beyond the jaw-dropping “‘wow” of looking at it, guests will come from far and near to see the light and laser quarry spectacular that will be similar in quality to Super Bowl and Olympic ceremonies.

What’s also notable is the human energy that Rock Row sparks. This is a destination that excites all senses and invites interaction, from passively looking at art to more actively climbing rock walls. All lines between work, life, learning and play will be blurred at Rock Row, intentionally. People will come here to drop kids off at day care in the morning…work during the day…interact with colleagues at a sponsored event…shop during lunch…go to a restaurant after work…attend a concert on the weekend…bring the kids to skate or go sailing on the quarry…and so much more.

Our hope is that everyone will have a favorite element of Rock Row that will change from season to season. We want people to connect with each other, and with nature at Rock Row in a way that makes life fuller and better. That’s a big task, we know. But we want every member of the family to always want to be at Rock Row. And to think there’s no place in the world like Rock Row.

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