City eager to prepare ‘Maskers’ property for next use

In Belfast, last call for former theater, railroad building

City hires new assessor, approves summer events at Steamboat Landing
Wed, 02/18/2015 - 8:45am

    BELFAST - 45 Front Street has had at least two significant lives already, as part of the now-bygone Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad terminal complex, and later as a performance space for the Belfast Maskers theater group. The third act will likely go on without the tipsy wooden structure that made the first two possible, but city officials have put demolition plans on hold briefly on account of the history of the building.

    “If an entity has an interest in moving the Maskers building, they should come forward now,” Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge told the City Council Tuesday night.

    Left to the city, the building, would be demolished. But KIttredge said there’s room for someone, or a group, with a connection to the building to either remove the entire building or salvage historically significant pieces. He gave the example of a museum or community group that would preserve part of the structure, but said the city is open to proposals, short of a straight salvage operation.

    Certain pieces could also be removed, he said, but the same community or historical standards would apply.

    “We want to avoid the possibility of somebody who wants a nice new door for their house,” he said.

    Time is a major factor as the city looks ahead toward redevelopment. Kittredge said those with a legitimate claim would need to move quickly.

    March 16 marks the end of a 30-day public comment period. The Council meets the following day, and Kittredge said he would likely return then to get approval for the next step. This could including putting the demolition of the old building out to bid, he said. Cost estimates compiled by an outside consulting firm can be viewed here.

    Several city officials made statements to the effect that there is probably not much in the way of historical artifacts inside the building, but some architectural details on the exterior may attract interest.

    The wooden building has been vacant since 2012 when the city’s insurance carrier refused to cover the building and the Belfast Maskers were forced to move. The city has since sought to prepare the property for redevelopment, most likely in some commercial use. A grant through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program paid for an environmental assessment found toxins consistent with outdated building practices and past uses, including lead paint, asbestos and petroleum-laden soil.

    A second grant through the same program is expected to cover the cost of remediation, so of which will be determined by the next planned use.

    Kittredge said he’s had some “very general conversations” with developers who have worked with the city in the past, but there have been no specific redevelopment proposals for the property, which extends north along Front Street and includes a small cinder block shed.

    He noted that the property may be eligible for a wider range of uses than previously throught, becasue of updates to the flood plain maps. “We had seen a scenario of buildings on stilts,” he said. “But the new maps are lower, so you could do something closer to the ground.”

    In other business, the Council:

    • Hired Brent Martin as city assessor. Martin, of Sidney, has a background in residential appraisals and has worked with the City of Belfast on a per diem basis in the past. This will be his first job as municipal assessor, though has held an assessor’s license for ten years. His predecessor, Bob Whitely, stepped down in 2014 after a long medical leave of absence. Assistant City Assessor Nancy See also retired later last year. Her post has not been filled.

    • Approved several events to be held at the Boathouse and Steamboat Landing Park, including a three night run of performances in the park by Cold Comfort Theater and an 8th grade dance organized by students of Troy Howard Middle School.

    • Approved a request by the fire department to replace an ambulance using money from a related reserve account.

    Contact Ethan Andrews at: