2017-08-03 / News

Developer behind building swap open to suggestions

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Richard Levy, owner of 163 Main St. in downtown Biddeford, which houses Bangor Savings Bank, is prepared to make a long term commitment to the Biddeford area. Levy, who owns a home in Biddeford Pool, traded 208 Main St. for 163 Main St. with Bangor Savings. Levy and Portland-based architect Caleb Johnson purchased 208 Main St. in 2014 for $320,000. Levy bought out Johnson’s share of 208 Main St. for an undisclosed amount. Levy does not own any other commercial property in Biddeford.

The two buildings were traded one-for one, and Levy said he had never made a deal like this before. Levy also acquired the drive-up window at 5 Washington St., which comes with seven parking spaces. Levy has considered tearing down the building on Washington Street to make more room for parking. The property also came with two spaces in the alley behind the building. Thirteen spaces in the public lot on Washington Street did not come with the trade, but Levy hopes to acquire the spaces.

Levy said Johnson reached out to Bangor Savings about the trade because 208 Main St. was initially designed to be a bank and Bangor Savings was only using the first floor of 163 Main St. Levy bought Johnson out in part because Johnson was moving to Portland and needed to focus on his architectural firm, Caleb Johnson Studio. However, Levy said Johnson may still be involved in the planning and brainstorming for 163 Main St.

“He’s happy to help me do what we both think needs to be done in Biddeford,” Levy said.

The top floor of 163 Main St. has high ceilings and large windows, which Levy said would work well for residential space. Levy also likes the idea of a small inn and restaurant, especially as the University of New England grows and parents will need more places to stay. Levy doesn’t feel there are many places to eat dinner in Biddeford, and would be happy to see competition among restaurants increase.

“Too many restaurants is a wonderful problem to have but I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” he said.

Levy will have to wait between eight months and a year for Bangor Savings to move to 208 Main St. before he can begin work on 163 Main St. He said he’s not set on any one purpose for 163 Main St.

“If somebody came tomorrow with a great idea for the building, I’m open to it,” he said.

Levy sees the Biddeford-Saco area as the next big area for development as Portland becomes more expensive. He hopes people continue to move into the mills and the amenities in the area keep growing. Levy wants to make a contribution to the city for the long term.

“I want Biddeford to succeed and I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” he said.

Jed Rathband, a Portland based broker with Keller Williams/The Rathband Company, said developers are interested in Biddeford for three reasons. Credit is inexpensive, interest rates are historically low and private investors are looking for places to put their money.

“It’s arguably the most optimal time ever to sell a building in Biddeford,” Rathband said.

Affordable space is attracting younger investors according to Rathband, on the commercial and residential side. However he said large swaths of Main Street are owned by landlords keeping spaces unfilled and not seeking a return on their investment.

“Biddeford could really pop if vacancies on Main Street didn’t exist to the extent they did driven by absentee landlords,” Rathband said.

Rathband has been speaking with property owners in Biddeford and seeing who might be interested in selling.

Delilah Poupore, executive director for Heart of Biddeford, said residential leasing is strong on the upper floors of Main Street buildings, something people may not often see. She said primary vacancies that remain on first floors are 2,500- to 4,000-square feet because downtowns used to have large department stores, which are no longer common. She hopes the spaces will be filled with businesses focused on activities such as escape rooms or a bowling alley.

Poupore spoke with a representative of Cougar Capital Management, a Boston based real estate and development company that purchased 145 Main St. in June for $850,000. She said it is focused on finding a tenant who will continue the revitalization efforts downtown. The building is assessed at $575,000.

The previous owners of 145 Main St. intended to restore all the hardwood floors, install kitchens, dining amenities and bathrooms. They also planned to open 4,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor.

According to a 2013 press release issued by the Heart of Biddeford, “Each unit in this historic building is being meticulously re-decorated in a unique motif, to capture the old world charm of seafaring coastal life and the spirit of the wealthy Kennebunkport merchants who built it in 1895. Its rich, warm, vintage hardwood floors are being restored throughout; there will be original styled, retro-chic kitchens and dining amenity makeovers, bathrooms re-tiled with classic ceramic tile patterns, from Merola Tiles, and fixtures of the period. But, most notable will be the imported, artisan designed, embossed metal ceilings, custom forged by world renowned tinsmith, Brian Greer, that will add nostalgia, beauty and historical elegance to every room, and a real delight for any who has a fascination with the past.”

Instead, Poupore said they put in a new ceiling and restored the building’s façade. They also restored the main floor to white box condition, meaning a retail operation could move in there tomorrow or a restaurant could move in if a kitchen was built.

“It’s excellent for Biddeford downtown when property owners invest in a space and at least get it to white box condition,” she said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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