Large downtown Camden parcels to concentrate on residential, new commercial tenants

Camden’s old mill buildings change ownership again — back to familiar faces

Posted:  Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 5:15am

CAMDEN — The large Knox Mill complex, as well as the former Camden Villa on Knowlton Street,  have been sold again. And this time, the Knox Mill is back in the hands of its former owner.

On Dec. 21, Knox Mill Holdings LLC, which falls under ownership of Camden resident Matt Orne, reacquired buildings 3, 4 and 5 of the historic Knox Mill, and which front Washington and Mechanic streets.

On Jan. 8, the Knowlton Street mill, most recently known as the elderly housing facility Camden Villa, came under Orne’s ownership, as well, in a sale that perpetuates the building fitted for senior living, but expands it to be a state-licensed and full-service assisted living facility.

With the latter venture, Orne has teamed up with Chad Cloutier, of Rockland, and his company, Davis Long Term Care.

While the Knox Mill will be under ownership of Knox Mill Holdings LLC, the Knowlton Street business will be owned by Camden Heights LLC.

And, the Camden Villa now has a new name: Bella Pointe Camden.


Knox Mill properties

Orne had owned the larger Knox Mill complex of downtown Camden buildings and land from 2011 to 2015. That spring, he sold the buildings, except for the smokestack, to Bangor businessman Joe Goudreau, who subsequently converted the office spaces to residential apartments.

Orne has become the owner again of the complex in lieu of foreclosure, and said Jan. 5 that he is first tending to maintenance and will focus on marketing the residential and commercial spaces.

“The building is in good shape,” said Orne. “We will be making some improvements.”

He is seeking tenants for the former restaurant space beneath the Knox Mill, most familiar to locals as the former Smokestack restaurant and bar, as well as the ground floor spaces formerly occupied by the Loyal Biscuit and the Watershed School (the former moved Commercial Street in Rockport while the latter purchased the former Seton School, just up the street on the corner of Free Street).

Upstairs in the Knox Mill, 15 of the 30 apartments are vacant.

Knox Mill Holdings LLC also owns the parking lot in the back of the Knox Mill complex, bordering the Megunticook River and Knowlton Street, and it again owns 48 Washington Street, which is currently under contract with another party, Orne said.

Knox Mill Holdings also owns the two Mechanic Street parking lots across the street from the Knox Mill.

He has approached the Town of Camden about possibly purchasing the Megunticook River lot for expanded municipal parking. But Orne also has ideas percolating for that large parking lot.

He also has talked with developers about building a hotel there, or creating a residential development, and has even toyed with the idea of building a memory care facility, expanding a campus for the elderly and infirm.

It all remains under discussion, but Orne recognizes the opportunity of the unused space that at one point during the 1990s was filled with cars of MBNA credit bank employees. 

“The middle of downtown Camden is a desirable place for active seniors,” he said. 

Currently, the former Villa — now Bella Pointe — is “filling right up,” said Orne, who sees the Knox Mill apartments, which were originally marketed under Goudreau for those 55 years of age older, as  as a complement to Bella Pointe.

Orne said half of the Knox Mill apartments had been occupied when he reacquired the real estate Dec. 21, “15 of the 30 apartments,” he said. Likewise, Davis Long Term Care has also been filling Bella Pointe. There are 30 units at the old renovated Knowlton Street mill, and now, said Orne, there are but five vacancies.

Knox Mill history

The Knox Mill was built in the mid-1800s, and joined four or five other woolen mills along the lower portion of the Megunticook River, before it spills into Camden Harbor.

The Knox Mill, however, was the biggest, and according to some accounts, half of Camden’s population worked in it at one point in time. 

In 1988, the mill closed operations, and the buildings stood vacant for several years before the credit card bank MBNA bought the real estate and converted the industrial space to offices in the early 1990s.

When Bank of America acquired MBNA and divested its Camden properties in 2005, the mill began to deteriorate. The property’s low point came when it sat for two years, 2008-2010, under bank ownership following default of Knox Mill Properties LLC, whose principals were Walter Skayhan, Stephen Geppi and Richard Pineau, of Baltimore.  The three had purchased the mill from the bank, and had grand visions of condominium development for the entire complex.

The mill then fell under ownership of the Pennsylvania bank PNC.

In March 2011, Orne acquired buildings 3, 4 and 5 of the Knox Mill complex on 4.5 acres. Small and micro-businesses and nonprofits began to populate the three floors of the buildings, while Watershed School renovated and occupied the ground floor at the corner of Washington and Mechanic streets.

The old textile mill that was turned into credit card bank offices in the early 1990s, and then slowly evolved into spaces for micro-businesses, is now going residential, as new ownership of the mill complex property sees opportunity in the housing market.

The Knox Mill buildings acquired by Orne are currently assessed by Camden at approximately $1.5 million.


Knowlton Street Mill history

The first floor of the four-story building is designed with a large gathering hall, lounge area, dining room with access to the riverside deck, large kitchen, salon, and a central elevator. The upper floors contain 25 private rooms, each with a full bath. There are three 1-bedroom units, 22 studio units, 17 of which have kitchenettes. Each floor has a common kitchenette, laundry room, and sitting area. 

Camden Hills Villa was established in 2011, when Joseph Goudreau, owner of Camden Hills Villa, Inc., acquired the 51 Mechanic Street property in a foreclosure auction following default of its former owner, Knox Mill Properties, LLC. Principals of that LLC were Walter Skayhan, Stephen Geppi and Richard Pineau, of Baltimore, Maryland. They had acquired the entire Knox Mill complex from Bank of America.

In 2011, Camden Hills Villa, Inc., acquired a building permit from Camden to renovate 51 Mechanic Street, turning former MBNA offices into 26 living quarters. The $533,200 project resulted in the Camden Hills Villa, which was marketed to the elderly as a full-service family retirement inn, with amenities such as internet access, common areas, water and mountain views, handicap accessible walkways surrounding the property, outdoor sitting areas and more.

The building had originally been a 1911-built mill that was renovated in the early 1990s for Kodak Corporation digital image workshops, and then acquired up by MBNA for corporate offices. In 2011, it was listed at $800,000, and Goudreau purchased it for $500,000.

Prior to that, the in the late 1800s, the properties on Knowlton Street and bordering Megunticook River were the site of the Knowlton Brothers Foundry, where ships’ winches and wheels were forged.

In a 2017 revaluation, the town assessed it at $862,800.


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