MADAWASKA, Maine — After months of resolving legal issues, Madawaska could finally donate the land for a new health center, giving its downtown area a fresh start.
The city gave Fish River Rural Health a 1.68-acre parcel of land in the abandoned Mid-Town Mall, where the organization will build a 30,000-square-foot health center beginning in 2023.
The project is part of Madawaska’s efforts to revitalize its downtown core. In 2017, the city revealed Grand Plan Madawaska, a 10-year plan to revive a region that has struggled with economic decline for years. The new health center will double the offerings of the current facility, create new jobs and become an anchor for the now empty mall area.
“It’s really just a matter of good timing,” Heather Pelletier, CEO of Fish River Rural Health, said Tuesday. “As Fish River sought to expand its footprint, the Town of Madawaska sought a partner to expand its commercial property. The stars just aligned.
Fish River, which also operates in Fort Kent and Eagle Lake, unveiled plans for its new site last year. They came to Madawaska because the patients didn’t come to their appointments.
Health center staff analyzed why so many patients were not showing up and learned that lack of transport was the main cause. They opened a part-time clinic in Madawaska, and it quickly became clear there was more than a part-time need, Pelletier said.
The demand for health services has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed the Canada-US border. With the border closed, residents seeking care in Canada needed to find it closer to home.
The Madawaska clinic had 12 employees before the pandemic, but with increased demand, it added 12 more people and more rented space in its building. Pelletier expects another 7-10 people to be hired when the new center is complete.
“We are thrilled to be able to build this kind of facility in our downtown core,” Madawaska City Manager Gary Picard said Tuesday. “It’s not something that happens often, especially in northern Maine, that we can have a new facility like this.”
The city has owned the former Kmart Plaza property for nearly three years.
Connecticut-based Mid-Town Realty Associates donated its portion of the land and two vacant buildings to the city in late 2018. The former Kmart store was not included in this parcel.
In January 2019, the city appointed a committee to determine the best use of space. Fish River Rural Health had spoken with city officials from time to time and began finalizing plans for a new facility last October.
Earlier this year, demolished crews the two empty buildings in the square to make way for the health center. The new facility will include family medicine, behavioral health,
psychiatric medication management, dental care, optometry, chiropractic, nutrition, eligibility assistance, chronic care management, nurse coordination and wellness services all under one roof, Madawaska and Fish River officials said in a joint statement today.
Over the past few weeks, Madawaska has been finalizing the investigations, legal work and paperwork to be able to transfer the 1.68 acre parcel to Fish River Rural Health.
The old land deal between Mid-Town and Kmart was complicated, Picard said. Kmart owned the building, but Mid-Town owned the parking lot. The agreement contained many restrictions that limited development on the ground. Seritage, which owned Kmart, would not work with the city.
“Ultimately, we used eminent domain for economic development purposes,” Picard said. “It was approved at the annual municipal meeting in June. We had to bring it to the city to exercise our eminent domain abilities.
In July, a Miami company purchased the Kmart property. Fish River plans to innovate next year.
Madawaska will keep part of the land, which will be a common area and will include parking for the public and the staff and patients of the health center. The city has already done work on the site and hopes to secure grants to improve access to recreational trails and expand the market for farmers.
“Three years seems like a long time, but it’s falling into place pretty quickly,” Picard said. “It’s just a complicated process because there are a lot of moving parts. But we’re really happy that it’s happening in our downtown area.