2014-11-21 / Front Page

Armory to become a gas station

By Duke Harrington
Contributing writer

The former armory in South Portland was purchased recently and will be turned in to a gas station. Its historic facade will remain. (Duke Harrington photo) The former armory in South Portland was purchased recently and will be turned in to a gas station. Its historic facade will remain. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — The city of South Portland has agreed to sell the former National Guard Armory building located at 682 Broadway in a $700,000 deal that will see most of the historic building taken down to make way for a gas station.

City councilors agreed to the sale during a 30-minute closed-door meeting Monday, after which City Manager Jim Gailey announced the sale to Priority Real Estate Group of Topsham.

“We will be finalizing language around a purchase and sale agreement,” said Gailey, adding that the document should be complete by the end of the week.

The city council did not need to vote to approve the sale. In April, the council amended its process for selling public property, empowering Gailey to dispose of sites as he sees fit, absent the traditional sealed bid process, provided he meets certain guidelines set out by the council. In this case, the criteria included nailing down a deal to preserve the historic art deco façade of the armory, which is festooned with concrete reliefs of various military hardware and armaments.

On Tuesday, Gailey said Priority Real Estate would preserve the front section of the building, which includes the façade and former armory offices. That section, he said, will become a convenience store and sit-down café. Only the cavernous garage portion of the 25,000-square-foot structure — once used for vehicle storage, and also well-remembered as the site of community dances and basketball games — will be torn down. The gas pumps, Gailey said, will be located behind the new store and café, largely out of sight from Broadway.

In all, nearly 20 prospective buyers toured the former armory since June, when the council decided to put it up for sale.

“We had a number of proposals in play and this was the one that balanced out as the best approach for meeting the goals of the city council,” Gailey said.

In addition to reserving the façade, other council conditions to the sale included permission to use part of the property to eventually build a walking path linking the city’s Greenbelt Trail to Hinckley Park, and continued use of the armory’s western garage bays by the fire department until the new public works facility on Highland Avenue is complete.

Another consideration was price, and the city appears to have made out somewhat better than expected.

South Portland bought the armory building, located just off the Casco Bay Bridge, in 2006 for $650,000, amid talk of converting it into a new city hall. But almost no money was put into the building for maintenance and repairs and a hole in the roof, created when a storm took down the flagpole perched atop the western turret, was never repaired. Water damage, city officials admit, has been significant. By 2012, Greater Portland Landmarks had put the armory on its inaugural list of “Places in Peril,” while the city reduced its own assessment of the property to


Gailey said a gas station makes sense for the area, which has been without one since demolition of a garage located across Broadway from the armory when then new Casco Bay Bridge was put in.

“When you leave Mill Creek, you have to go up Ocean (Street) or all the way up Broadway to Cash Corner before you get to a gas station, so we’ve been hearing about this need for a while now,” Gailey said.

The armory is currently located in a residential area, meaning a zoning change will have to take place before the gas station project can move forward. That will mean several stops before the planning board, making it uncertain exactly when construction might commence, Gailey said.

However, the city will not have to redraw property lines in preparation for the sale. When the council agreed to put the building on the market in June, the city redrew the line between the armory and the public safety building located next door. That allowed the fire and police departments to retain use of a newly built parking area, constructed partly on the armory lot.

The change ensured sufficient room for firefighters to turn around the city ladder truck, but the new property line was located just 15 feet off the western foundation of the armory. That line change, along with installation of an electronic gate on Armory Street at the entrance to the public safety parking lot, made it nearly impossible for any prospective developer to use the western side of the armory. According to Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings, that became a stumbling block in his efforts to market the building, even killing one deal outright.

“The problem is that we took a significant piece of that property. The city just took it,” he said, at an October meeting of the economic development committee.

“You can’t just shut off one side of a building. That (development) was my life for a while and I wouldn’t buy the damn thing if I couldn’t access a whole side of the building. So, that’s what killed that deal,” said Jennings, still a silent partner in Portland’s Thompson Point development.

But the gas station proposal has the advantage of there being no right side of the building to access, at least beyond the front offices.

Representatives from Priority Real Estate did not return requests for comment before the Sentry’s deadline, Tuesday. According to its website, the company was founded in 1998 and now owns or manages commercial property valued at more than $100 million, building at a recent pace of five new projects per year.

“After each property is finished, we donate $10,000 to local community organizations in the town where the property was developed,” it says.

Some of its projects include the Topsham Medical Building, Downeast Credit Unions in Topsham and Richmond, the Irving/Dunkin’ Donuts in Scarborough, and Nouria Lil’ Mart/ McDonald’s combo gas stations in Hollis, Sanford, Thomaston and Wiscasset.

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