Want to stay anonymous after a $7 million property deal?

Just last week I was complaining in this column about the media’s bad habit of granting big companies de facto anonymity by referring to them by corporate names that have no meaning to readers. Not even a week passed without another egregious example of this journalistic malpractice.

The Press Herald and Mainebiz both reported that The Shops at Long Bank, a shopping center on Route 1 in Kennebunk anchored by a Hannaford supermarket, had been sold for nearly $7 million. Both reported that the seller was GI Kennebunk LLC and the buyer was Property Partners LLC. Neither gave their readers a clue about who or what these mysterious limited-liability companies are.

My family shops at that Hannaford several times a week, so I called Greg Perry of Cardente Real Estate, the broker who represented the buyer in this deal, and asked him who bought the property where we buy our food. “Unfortunately, if I could have told [other reporters], I would have told everybody,” he said. “There’s a reason why they’ve set up the LLC — to keep their names out of the press.”

And there’s a reason why the press should want to name these people: they own huge chunks of our communities.

The use of LLCs in commercial real estate is common practice. Perry said buyers often want to remain anonymous “simply because they’re making large purchases. … They aren’t trying to brag.” Many are “blue-jean wearing, normal, grind-out-the-day workers who’ve been really successful and don’t want people thinking they’re millionaires.” Perry said sellers sometimes try to hide behind LLCs so their sale of a property doesn’t prompt speculation that the company’s in trouble.

Or, I would add, that the property’s in trouble.

Let’s talk about the LLCs involved in this Kennebunk deal. A relatively easy online search of public records and Google indicates there is a story here worth exploring.

The seller, GI Kennebunk LLC, was formed in 2003 by Great Island Development Group, a Boston-based company formed in 1990 to “assist Wal-Mart’s entry into the Northeast,” according to the bio of co-founder Charles Irving. Often in partnership with other developers, that’s exactly what Great Island has been doing in New England for Wal-Mart and other big national chains, like Lowe’s. In 2006, the LLC’s state filing was amended to reflect the involvement of Dead River Company as a member/manager. Dead River executive Anne L. Littlefield is listed on the deed of the Long Bank property as GI Kennebunk’s president.

Many locals, including some town officials, were concerned about GI Kennebunk’s plans to build the Long Bank shopping center in 2007. They worried the area’s population was too small to support its original anchor tenant, Stop & Shop, and that its failure would leave the town blighted with a big empty box and parking lot. Sure enough, Stop & Shop closed just two-and-a-half years later, despite the fact the chain as a whole was posting big income gains.

This past June, Stop & Shop’s Dutch parent company, Royal Ahold, basically swallowed Hannaford’s Belgian parent company, the Delhaize Group. The future of the Hannaford at Long Bank could fairly be described as uncertain. That same month, the similarly sized Shaw’s supermarket a few miles away in Biddeford closed. Competition from the relatively new (and significantly cheaper) Market Basket in Biddeford, not to mention the Wal-Mart on the same commercial strip of Route 111, was obviously a factor.

The vacant former Shaw's in Biddeford. So-called "ghostbox" properties like this are notoriously difficult to redevelop or sell. photo/Chris Busby

The vacant former Shaw’s in Biddeford. So-called “ghostbox” properties like this are notoriously difficult to redevelop or sell. photo/Chris Busby

Three months later, GI Kennebunk sells the Long Bank shopping center (which it never listed on the market for sale) for roughly $825,000 less than its tax-assessed value.

Nothing to see here?

The buyer, Property Partners LLC, was formed this spring. The address for the LLC listed on the deed for Long Bank is the Scarborough residence of Gary Crosby.

Crosby, a former member of South Portland’s zoning Board of Appeals, has two unsuccessful runs for the South Portland City Council and two failed bids for the Maine Legislature under his belt. A frequent and vocal critic of South Portland city government — in 2012, the staunch Republican circulated a petition demanding councilors relinquish their city-funded health care benefits — Crosby led a failed 2009 campaign to ban dogs from Willard Beach from April through October, and campaigned in 2007 against a bond to renovate South Portland High School.

News reports over the years note that Crosby has owned a Laundromat, an excavation business, and an unspecified amount of real estate. In a 2011 Press Herald article about a proposal to require new residential developments in South Portland to have sprinkler systems (Crosby is quoted opposing the idea), he’s described as a “commercial real estate developer.”

No word yet on whether he wears jeans, but I’ll keep you posted.

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.