Flagpole park developers warn that proposed moratorium endangers project

Development company behind proposal to build $1 billion park in Columbia Falls warns a town moratorium would be "devastating" to the project.

by | December 4, 2022

A rendering of what a portion of Main Street in Freedom Park would look like at sunrise. Courtesy: Flagpole of Freedom Park/Break the Ice Media.

The development company that wants to build a giant “Flagpole of Freedom” park in Columbia Falls warned Monday night that a proposed moratorium on major projects in the town could derail the venture.

A lawyer for Worcester Resources told town officials that a moratorium would be “devastating” for the Flagpole park project because it could scare away potential investors, a warning echoed by a member of the Worcester family.  

“We’re clearly not in favor of it,” Rob Worcester said at Monday’s Columbia Falls board of selectmen meeting. “We’re in a position where we won’t be able to actively do a lot to take on partners and organizations … and things like that if it is in a stall.'”

Tim Pease, a lawyer for the company, told the Columbia Falls board of selectmen that would-be investors from out of state ask “can you actually pull this off, what’s the local support?”

“A moratorium has a very negative view in that type of context,” Pease continued. “To potential investors it could be devastating. … It could end up really damaging the prospects of the project inadvertently.”

Worcester Resources unveiled its plans to build the $1 billion project this spring, and got special legislation passed that would allow Columbia Falls to annex land for the project. 

The company initially aimed to open the park July 4, 2026. The company wanted to operate the patriotism-themed development as a for-profit enterprise, but veterans groups were surprised to learn that, an attorney for the company told Columba Falls town officials several weeks ago. 

But in August, Worcester said it was pausing the project for 4-8 weeks. They are now reconsidering the funding structure, and say the 2026 date is “slipping.”

The town, meanwhile, is gathering information about the project and is considering a moratorium on big projects. That would give the town time to put in place policies to handle the Flagpole project or any other sizable development.

The town has scheduled a meeting for Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. to discuss the rationale behind the proposed moratorium. The moratorium would have to be approved by the town’s voters. Voters would also need to approve an annexation to accommodate the development.

Aga Dixon, an attorney for the town, said investors’ concern is a “solvable problem.” She emphasized that the proposed moratorium was intended to give the town breathing room to prepare for big projects, and the investors would understand that. 

Worcester has previously threatened to pull the project out of Columbia Falls if the moratorium is put in place. 

“If a moratorium is what the majority of residents and municipal officials want to happen in Columbia Falls, that is up to the people of Columbia Falls,’’ Rob Worcester said in a statement to The Maine Monitor for an Oct. 16 article. “Our project will move forward, and either the state or another municipality will reap the social, tax and economic benefits should Columbia Falls choose not to support the annexation.” 

As originally envisioned by the Worcester family, the Flagpole park would attract 6 million visitors and employ 5,000 workers. The flagpole would stand 1,776 feet above sea level, 300 feet taller than the spire of the Empire State Building. The project is estimated to cost at least $1 billion.

In another development, court filings show that Worcester Holdings is owed $888,000 by a biomass company that recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Worcester Holdings is listed as one of dozens of creditors in the bankruptcy case filed by Stored Solar LLC and a number of its subsidiaries. Stored Solar filed for bankruptcy protection in September in Bangor. 

In a statement, Worcester Resources said: “Flagpole of Freedom and Stored Solar are two different projects and neither has a direct or indirect impact on the other. We are optimistic that we will be made whole in the Stored Solar bankruptcy filing and we do anticipate working with that organization under new ownership in the future.”

The bankruptcy filing — and Worcester’s appearance as a creditor — surfaced briefly at an earlier meeting of the Columbia Falls select board. 

Stored Solar, whose subsidiaries operate in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, converts wood into electricity. Several loggers and other businesses are listed as creditors in court filings. 

 

David Dahl is editor of The Maine Monitor. Reach him by email with other story ideas: david@themainemonitor.org.

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David Dahl

David Dahl

Veteran journalist David Dahl serves as the editor of The Maine Monitor, overseeing its daily operations. David was most recently a deputy managing editor at the Boston Globe. Before joining the Globe, David worked for 20 years at the St. Petersburg Times. He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a fellow at the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University. He has also been an adjunct professor of journalism at Emerson College, Boston College and Boston University. David and his wife, Kathy, enjoy tennis and kayaking at their home in Friendship. They have two adult children.


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