The Developers: Tracy + Tom Nale
How did you come to be in Waterville? Why did you return?
Tom: We were born and raised here and we attended Colby College. Home is home – I always felt comfortable here. Dad’s law practice is here, which provided a chance to work and learn that I couldn’t get anywhere else. If I was at another firm, I would feel uncomfortable asking senior partners questions. At our firm, my learning curve escalated and I progressed more quickly – it would have taken me five to seven years at another firm to do what I did here in a couple years.
Tracy: First and foremost, the fact that our family’s law practice originated in Waterville – it had strong a client base. It’s also where we grew up – there’s a lot of significance there. Frankly for that reason alone, I will always split my time with Waterville. The city is the home base of the office, and I think it always will be.
How has Waterville changed during your time here?
Tom: In the early 1990s, when I was young, the city was still engaged in manufacturing with Scott Paper and Hathaway, and the Keyes facility was at its maximum capacity. The closure of the mills pulled people out and the city regressed. Within the last three to four years, with Colby College’s initiatives, it’s the first time in a long time that the city is optimistic. Young people are excited to live here. There’s a lot of energy around Main Street. This development is driving that. Young people are filling the 132 condos at Hathaway Creative Center. It’s a cause for optimism.
Tell me about your work in law. What do you do and why?
Tom: A large part of our family is in law: my father, three uncles, and two cousins. My dad told me not to be a lawyer because the work, especially criminal, divorce, and family law, can be rugged. Yet, whenever he talked about his work, he was still excited about it, still interested and wanted to share details about his day. I chose to practice his areas of law to transition him as a successor, and Tracy practices other areas of law to broaden our firm.
You both have experience managing residential property. Why did you decide to venture into commercial real estate with your purchase of the Arnold Block on Main Street?
Tracy: We have both had an interest in real estate because of our father – my exposure to that is where my general interest in real estate stems from, and I’ve always been interested in commercial real estate. Two years ago, our sister Jennifer started working at [commercial real estate services firm] Porta & Co. in Portland, and hearing about and seeing the transactions happening there opened my eyes to a new type of real estate investing and seemed more exciting and a better fit.
For me personally, the advantage in Waterville stems from our familiarity with the city. Knowledge of the area in which you’re investing is important. Know what’s going on in the area. On top of that, Colby College’s investment has spurred individual investment downtown, including the BUILD grant. Really, everything that’s happening downtown ultimately spurs from Colby’s time and investment. It makes the downtown a very appealing place to be investing. Downtown is in an Opportunity Zone, the Lockwood Mills are slated for redevelopment, so many different things happening at the same time. It’s one positive news article and event after that.
Most of what we hear is that young educated people are leaving, but it’s important to see that many are staying here and investing, – it can be done. We hope that trend continues and grows.
Tom: The number one reason to venture into commercial real estate was the opportunity to be on Main St. The upside to commercial real estate is that businesses don’t put as much wear and tear on a property as residents do, there’s the option for triple net leases, and you can acquire larger square footages in one purchase.
Tell me about real estate development outside and inside Waterville. How does it compare?
Tom: Number one: you can be on top of things in Waterville. There’s a level of accessibility and proximity that you can’t get in a larger city. It’s a lot less expensive, too, so it’s easier to come up with the capital to do the things we want to do. I’m not sure we could do that at our age in a larger city. There’s a simplicity to do it in Waterville – you know your contractor, you have a rapport, a relationship. We don’t have those relationships in Portland.
Where do you think Waterville will be in 5-10 years?
Tom: There will be more reason for businesses to stay open until 11:00pm. The movie theater coming downtown [to the Paul J. Schupf Arts Center] is a huge incentive to stay open later on a regular basis.
In terms of where Waterville real estate will be in five to ten years, I think people will be surprised and impressed. Main Street will be full on all levels, and facades will be uniform and polished. The streetscaping aspect of the BUILD grant will bring charm to downtown. Kennedy Memorial Drive has always been strong – next is College Avenue. If you find that College Ave is growing, then the city is doing well – it’s a good barometer.
Why should young people get involved in a small, rural city like Waterville?
Tracy: The confluence of all the great things that are happening that create a wonderful environment, whether you’re investing, starting, or growing bus. There are so many opportunities.
In the same breath, looking at law practice, I’ve been able to see the full range of what it means to be a lawyer. Whereas in a larger city, I wouldn’t have had the experience and exposure that I had in my first five years here in a decade or more. The ability to have such a breadth of experience and exposure so early in my career is wonderful and I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity elsewhere.
Tom: Number one: you can make a difference earlier in life. Tracy and I wouldn’t be breaking into Portland or Boston at our age – we’d have to wait until we were more capitalized and more knowledgeable of the players. You can be your own boss, make your own decisions, and shape your community.
What are the challenges you face as a young leader in your field?
Tom: In law, earning clients’ trust. In this industry, lawyers need to project knowledge, stability, and confidence. With regards to real estate, our father deserves tremendous credit – he invested in residential real estate (he and my uncles developed about a dozen homes on Country Way and Mountain Farm Road in Waterville), it worked out well, and it impressed upon us that there’s more than one way to do things. You can be more than a lawyer. He is selfless with his knowledge and time – we talk every day about what questions to ask, which buttons to push, which strings to pull. Tracy makes it very easy as well. The whole idea to get involved in Main Street was her idea. She approached the renovation, manages tenants – who are good, hardworking people – and is running point.
Tracy: It has actually been a wonderful experience in law and in real estate investment. I found that whether it’s communicating with more seasoned attorneys or more seasoned investors, or going through the development process (with architects, engineers, brokers, and bankers), the experience top-to-bottom has been very positive. It’s very telling of our community and important to impart that.
What advice do you have for Millennials deciding where to put down roots and get involved?
Tom: Ask yourself, what do you want to do in life? Wherever you go, work hard, treat people right, and it won’t matter where you are. Our parents always encouraged us to live our lives and to go all in.
What’s your pitch for greater Waterville?
Tom: Just come here – we’ve got great, world-class opportunities, and not just for people buying and renovating but also occupying. Restaurants, small and large businesses can be involved in Waterville’s growth. We also have built-in institutions like Colby College, Thomas College, MaineGeneral Health and Northern Light Inland Hospital, which a lot of communities can’t get.