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May 30, 2018

Waterville's Mitchell devoted to developing his hometown

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Waterville developer Bill Mitchell stands at what will be the new home of Waterville Pediatriacs, at Penny Hill Park, on Kennedy Memorial Drive. It's one of several properties he owns and has developed.

WATERVILLE — Bill Mitchell started out in real estate young. His father, Paul Mitchell, owned apartment houses and developed residential property around the city and Bill would help out.

"When I was a young boy growing up, it wasn't uncommon for me on a Saturday or Sunday to go to a house [his father built], sweep, pick up scraps in the yard and other odd jobs. As I got older I helped my father manage his apartment houses," he said.

Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance, is combining his love of real estate development and of his home city into a career of its own.

Mitchell's first real estate deal was in partnership with his father in 2002 — KMD Plaza, a commercial lot with two vacant buildings on Kennedy Memorial Drive, which at the time totaled 4,800 square feet. Within nine months, they had three tenants — Papa John's Pizza, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Pearle Vision Express.

He and his father added a third building with 10,600 square feet at KMD Plaza in 2005.

In 2012, Mitchell bought Penny Hill Park on Kennedy Memorial Drive, which had two vacant buildings with 28,000 square feet.

Things exploded from there. He now owns eight properties with 14 buildings in Waterville, most of it commercial, totaling 120,000 square feet, a number he hopes to increase to 130,000 soon.

He said he likes the way commercial real estate changes and evolves.

"You have no idea who's going to call for available space, when you own property, it could be retail, it could be office, it could be a doctor's office," he said. "My strategy is to bide my time, to be patient, especially with the revitalization going on downtown, in the hope that I'll find good tenants."

After he invested in that first property with his father, "As it developed and matured, I began to realize I liked real estate development."

He likes to buy distressed properties that are in good locations that he sees potential in. "It's exciting to bring them back and bring the best out of them."

Biggest project so far

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The new building at Penny Hill Park in Waterville going up behind the existing one will house Waterville Pediatrics.

Mitchell's newest project is expansion of Penny Hill Park, at 295 Kennedy Memorial Drive, where a 13,500-square-foot building is going up behind the existing building.

Waterville Pediatrics, which is moving from Silver Street to the site in July, will be the anchor in about half of the square footage, but there are also three units of about 2,000 square feet each.

Waterville Pediatrics approached him about developing a property a year ago. He'd already planned to develop the eight-acre Penny Hill site when he bought it, and the medical practice was a good fit.

"They're an outstanding group of professionals," he said. "They are the premiere pediatrics practice in central Maine."

Waterville Pediatrics is also happy with the partnership.

The practice was looking for a new and updated space, said Kathleen Hickey, a physician with Waterville Pediatrics.

"The space will offer a welcoming and modern layout, facilitating our team based approach to assisting our families in optimizing their health and well being," she said in an email to Mainebiz. "Our entire staff is anxiously awaiting moving into our new space and sharing it with the families we serve."

Mitchell said the project is his biggest to date.

"My approach is to build twice as much space as an anchor tenant requires," he said. The other units would be leased to businesses that would complement the anchor tenant and draw from it.

The project also includes renovating a 4,000-square-foot building on the site to lease as medical or retail. "It'll be a nice fresh new environment," he said of the former industrial building, which has been taken down its bones with the renovation.

Scott D. Lyon Construction, of Manchester, is doing the site work and construction and S. J. Wood of Winthrop is the general contractor for the actual building and doctor's fit-up project. AE Hodsdon Engineering is the firm helping Mitchell oversee the project.

The new building echoes the 1950s-era construction of the Penny Hill Park building, which was built as an auto dealership. Mitchell bought it in 2012, after it had been vacant for several years.

"This was a classic design for a car dealership of that era," Mitchell said while giving a tour of the property last week. "The showroom was here," he says, pointing to the single story cottage-style section at the top of the hill. "The bays down there," he said, pointing down the hill. The space now houses such tenants as Waterville Women's Care, Goodwill Industries, First Choice Pregnancy, Mix 107.9, Edward Jones and Regional Home Care.

The fact he could take that mid-century architecture and turn it into something that works in the 21st century excites Mitchell. "I love the history part of it."

The project is at the crest of a hill, across busy Kennedy Memorial Drive from J&B Oil's car wash and X-Press Stop gas station and convenience store, and part of the development includes a turning lane in busy Kennedy Memorial Drive.

Part of the downtown surge

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The buildings at 14-18 Common St., Waterville, (center, right) were extensively renovated by Bill Mitchell.

Penny Hill may be Mitchell's biggest new project, but not his only one.

Mitchell has another property under contract in Waterville. Plans for the property aren't finalized yet, but once bought, "I intend to redevelop them to their fullest potential."

Mitchell expects that the downtown development surge to spread to a broader radius around downtown, including the northern end of Main Street as well as Front Street and Kennedy Memorial Drive.

Last fall, he bought the 27,000-square-foot former American Legion building at 21 College Ave., at the north end of downtown. Once it's renovated, the Children's Discovery Museum will move there from its location on Capitol Street in Augusta.

Mitchell also plans to develop office space in the building, which would be leased out.

He said he'd like to find a way to preserve the legacy of the the building, which was built in the 1950s as a Legion post and has never been anything else.

Mitchell bought 14-18 Common St., which is on downtown's Castonquay Square, in 2015, shortly after Colby College bought two buildings downtown, the beginning of the school's $50 million investment in downtown Waterville.

The Proper Pig, a bar and restaurant co-owned by Mitchell opened there in June 2016, and anchors the renovated historic buildings, one a former Masonic hall.

Waterville energy, legacy

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The Children's Discovery Museum will move into the former American Legion post in Waterville next year.

Colby College and Waterville Creates! plan to renovate The Center, at 93 Main St., across Castonguay Square from Mitchell's buildings.

The square, which is also bordered by City Hall, Main Street and Front Street, is set to undergo a redesign with support from a grant Waterville Creates! has been awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mitchell lauds Colby and the Alfond Foundation, which has invested in several downtown projects, for their role. He said smaller developers around the city are contributing as well.

He gives much of the credit for his own real estate success to his father, who died in February.

Paul Mitchell owned for many years GHM Insurance, and was also on the city planning board and was executive director of the Waterville Urban Renewal Authority from 1966 to 1978, among other things.

"He was a real entrepreneur," said his son.

That legacy extends to how the younger Mitchell feels about his home city.

"I've always been bullish on the city of Waterville," he said. "I love it's history, my family is from here." He said it's always been important to him to contribute to the city's success.

"I'm very thankful to be part of this," he said.

"There's a very positive energy in Waterville and the surrounding communities right now," he said. "I feel we're heading into a really exciting time, which is why I am very bullish on the future of Waterville and central Maine as a whole."

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