A Kennebunk-based developer plans to transform a beleaguered shopping center in Biddeford into an indoor entertainment and sports complex.
This is the second time Tim Harrington has pitched a new vision for Five Points Shopping Center, and this latest iteration is a sharp departure from the mixed-use housing and commercial development that was previously approved back in 2021. The change comes at a time when the rapidly growing York County city sorely needs more housing, but officials say the new plans present a different opportunity: the chance to cement Biddeford as a year-round destination for families.
Harrington has been busy in the former mill town. He redeveloped the Lincoln Mill into an upscale hotel and is planning a nearly 500-unit housing development called 1 Diamond close to downtown. But the strip mall at 420 Alfred Road, which Harrington has owned for two decades, has been somewhat of the “poor stepchild.”
Now, he said, “Five Points’ time has come.”
The 140,000 square-foot complex, called Play 5, is touted as a destination entertainment center for “thrill seekers of all ages,” according to a news release from Atlantic Holdings, Harrington’s real estate development company. The site will include a pickleball court and an indoor golf venue, with other potential tenants to include a bowling alley, arcade, laser tag and a ropes course. It is expected to open in the spring.
Play 5 is modeled after Apex Entertainment in Marlborough, Mass., though there is no affiliation. Apex offers food, an arcade, bumper cars and go-karts, sports simulators, mini golf, a ropes course and more.
Harrington said he’s seen a lot of demand for some sort of indoor entertainment to keep families busy during the long Maine winters. With Play 5, that can all happen under one roof.
Marty Grohman, Biddeford’s newly elected mayor, said Harrington has a history of beautiful projects, and he expects Five Points to be the same.
“It’s going to be very nice for Biddeford,” Grohman said. “You’ll come off of that exit and it will impress.”
Five Points Shopping Center is located on highly traveled Alfred Road, between the highway and the intersection it is named after. It was built in 1978 and purchased by Harrington in 2004, according to city records. It’s valued at about $10.6 million.
Harrington revived the “neglected center” when he first bought it but said it’s overdue for a makeover.
The plaza is currently anchored by a Goodwill store but is also home to Sherwin-Williams Paint Store, H&R Block, Maine Cleaners, a nail salon and a workforce development nonprofit. A Tropical Smoothie Cafe and 99 Restaurant are situated across the parking lot. Several big tenants have moved or closed in recent years, including Planet Fitness, Big Lots and Smitty’s Cinema, among others.
“Retail is particularly challenging right now,” Harrington said, adding that he hopes the entertainment complex will breathe needed life into the space.
“It’s an amazing location, an incredible piece of property,” he said. “It’s time for a facelift and injection of capital.”
Harrington said the current tenants can coexist with the future use of the site.
“I’m in the business of getting tenants and keeping them, not kicking them out,” he said.
Play 5 is the latest in a series of moves that officials hope will help the once-troubled city become a destination.
Within the last decade, Biddeford has transformed itself from a crumbling mill town with vacant streets and a bad reputation into the youngest city in Maine, bursting with nationally recognized restaurants and a growing arts scene. Its renaissance has attracted people from all over, and the city has quickly become a desirable spot, especially for people who have been priced out of Portland. But there aren’t enough houses or apartments to house even the longtime residents, let alone newcomers. The city is desperate for housing.
Grohman and others are trying to change that, and fast. Most days, he said, are spent “breaking the log jam,” trying to sort out any hold-ups for upcoming projects. And there are many. Grohman estimates that more than 1,300 new apartments and housing units are headed for the city in the next few years.
Harrington’s 1 Diamond project, with 490 market-rate units, will be among the largest. Another development close to Five Points Shopping Center will add about 250 workforce units. And down the road across from Target, developers are working on a 216-unit project.
Five Points Shopping Center had been expected to join the list of housing projects in the pipeline.
In early 2021, Harrington approached the Biddeford planning board with plans for a mixed-use commercial and housing development. The initial plan included the current retail tenants with about 130 market-rate apartments extending six or seven stories above the center of the complex. The early plans also included another 128 garden-style apartments on a five-acre wooded parcel adjacent to the shopping center.
Last month, Harrington reversed course and announced plans for Play 5.
“It’s a challenging time in the development world. Anything we talked about at 3.5% interest rates, now you’re looking at 8%,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for housing on the site.
“I’m a big believer in Biddeford, so if there’s a way to make that five acres work as workforce housing, that’s amazing,” he said. “It should become housing. It was never an either/or proposition.”