2017-07-27 / Front Page

Downtown buildings are changing hands

In an undisclosed deal, one building is traded for another and the former courthouse is sold to a Portland area developer
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


A view of Bangor Savings Bank from Washington Street in downtown Biddeford. The bank, in a yet to be disclosed deal, traded its building for 208 Main St. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) A view of Bangor Savings Bank from Washington Street in downtown Biddeford. The bank, in a yet to be disclosed deal, traded its building for 208 Main St. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo) BIDDEFORD – The former Bank of America building at 208 Main St. was traded to Bangor Savings Bank for its current property at 163 Main St. Caleb Johnson sold 208 Main St. to a business partner who executed the trade with Bangor Savings.

Johnson declined to name the business partner, however, in 2014, Johnson and partner Richard Levy purchased 208 Main St. Calls to Levy were not returned as of deadline. Public documents about the trade were not available as of press time as the transaction took place within the last two weeks.

The new Bangor Savings branch is projected to open in 2018 and its current locations at 163 Main St. and 5 Washington St. will remain open until then.

Carol Colson, director of marketing and community relations at Bangor Savings Bank, said building renovations at 208 Main St. are expected to begin in October. Use of 13 parking spots in the public lot owned by Bangor Savings and two spots in the alleyway on Washington Street between Bangor Savings and the former courthouse is still to be determined. The ATM on Washington Street will not remain.

Johnson moved his business, Caleb Johnson Studio, in January 2017 from 265 Main St. in Biddeford to Portland out of necessity for the growth of the company. His firm consisted of two people in 2003 compared to 35 today. He found more progress networking with developers in Portland.

“We were not able to build up financial capacity while doing business in Biddeford,” he said.

Johnson still owns four properties in Biddeford, two personal residential units, 265 Main St. and 17 Jefferson St. Johnson said he still lives in Biddeford and will continue to invest in the city.

“We’re not abandoning Biddeford by any stretch,” Johnson said. “We found that our business is more sustainable in Portland.”

Johnson also sold the former courthouse building at 27 Washington St. for an undisclosed price to Jim Brady, a Portlandbased developer that worked on the Press Hotel and is involved with 58 Fore Street, a 10-acre mixed use project along the Portland waterfront. The property is valued at $380,300 and includes parking behind the building. Johnson said plans for that building are being finalized but it has been considered for either office space or a highend restaurant.

Johnson purchased the former courthouse March 5, 2015 for $150,000.

Brady was interested in the property because of its unique history and believed it was in serious disrepair.

“We have an opportunity to redevelop the building for current day use and bring it back to its former glory,” he said.

Brady said the building was completed in 1914 for a cost of $90,000 by the federal government for the express purpose of serving as a post office. The plans were completed by the supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department and served as a model for other post offices built in the 1920s and 1930s. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, which is administered by the National Park Service.

“It’s a pretty unique structure,” Brady said. “Biddeford and Saco are full of old large red brick mills ... this is a very different style building, ornate and finely detailed.”

Brady said the building is empty and hopes to begin the first phase of cleaning and repair within the next few weeks. Following that work there will be more intensive renovations such as replacement of the roof. Brady said he will follow National Park Service guidelines with regards to historic structures while remodeling the building.

Johnson purchased 208 Main St. in 2014 for $320,000 with Levy. The property is valued by the city at $677,100. Johnson said he planned to use the building for office space and a high-end restaurant. He also wanted to see the city open the park adjacent to building up to the public.

In a Courier article published Dec. 11, 2014, Johnson said he envisioned a large public city plaza at the corner of Lincoln and Main streets using land adjacent to City Square Park. He pictured a small version of Monument Square in Portland. He was interested in opening up space along Main Street and allowing for more civic activity outside.

He said he would still like to see a town center constructed but doesn’t feel he can be a leader on the idea with the sale of 208 Main St. Johnson, however, felt Bangor Savings would be well suited to establish a town center as long as the city was receptive. He didn’t expect plans to come anytime soon though.

“Urban planning is a decades long endeavor, it doesn’t happen in years,” Johnson said.

Johnson suggested the town center be modeled after an Italian piazza. He said the city should invest in brick and granite as opposed to asphalt. Johnson sees a problem with consistently choosing the lowest bidder and cost for municipal projects.

“It brings down the overall feeling of quality and property values,” he said.

Johnson said he would like to see the city make an investment of $1 million into the town center concept. He said it would be worth the pay off for generations to come.

In the meantime, Johnson expects to see significant revitalization along the block of Washington Street. Johnson’s partner plans to redevelop 163 Main St. within the next year. Bangor Savings is the only tenant and Johnson said it could ideally be used as an inn but the challenge is with only 18,000-square-feet, there would be a limit of 24 rooms. Johnson said office space has been considered for the second and third floors and some sort of retail operation for the first floor.

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