Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has tossed out bids for a massive office complex, leaving the future of the state’s Augusta footprint on hold and up in the air.
A request for proposals from the administration in October would have drastically changed the capital: It called for developers to submit bids to build a 225,000-square-foot facility within a mile of the State House that would be rented by the state to house 1,400 state employees currently working in other spaces around the city.
That came without warning and the complex would have been bigger than Augusta’s Wal-Mart. It raised eyebrows among Maine developers, with one calling it “a big deal for Augusta” and comparing it to “a planet just suddenly emerging in the solar system.”
By February, the state got three bids for the complex, from LePage ally Peter Anastos, a Yarmouth hotelier and chairman of the Maine State Housing Authority; a group tied to Gardiner-based Pine State Trading Co.; and a Portland company.
But David Heidrich, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said the bids “were not to the economic advantage of the state,” which kept it from issuing an award.
“As a result, we are in the process of determining the best path forward to address our future space needs in Augusta,” he said.
It wasn’t the Republican governor’s first proposal to consolidate state offices in Augusta. In 2015, LePage proposed borrowing $112 million to redevelop state-owned property on the city’s east side to house state agencies. But the Legislature reduced that to $23 million in the final budget that was passed over LePage’s objection last June.
Leading the opposition to that proposal was the city of Augusta, which collects taxes on the private buildings in the city that provide roughly 600,000 square feet of office space to the state. If a new state building was built, it would be tax-exempt and other buildings would empty out, including the prominent Key Bank building downtown.
However, the RFP not moving forward makes for more uncertainty regarding the vacant former Maine Department of Transportation garage on Capitol Street, which Anastos had the option to purchase. He has given that up and the property’s on the market, according to department spokesman Ted Talbot.
Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said state office space in the city “remains a bit of a complicated question” and that city officials “would love to see some quality development of that key location,” perhaps including a hotel and restaurant that leverages the proximity to the State House.
“It’s such a prominent location that we all, as Mainers, want to it see done right,” Bridgeo said. “But in the process, I don’t want to see an adverse impact on the city of Augusta.”