2016-01-08 / Community

South Portland Armory on track for development

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


This November 2014 drawing by Alpha Architects of Portland shows how the former National Guard Armory building at 682 Broadway in South Portland may look after redevelopment into a gas station and convenience store by Topsham-based Priority Real Estate Group. After more than a year of groundwork, including some revisions, such as removal of the signs from the building facade, sale of the structure is expected to close by March 1, with construction to start soon thereafter, and wrapping up in the fall. (Courtesy image) This November 2014 drawing by Alpha Architects of Portland shows how the former National Guard Armory building at 682 Broadway in South Portland may look after redevelopment into a gas station and convenience store by Topsham-based Priority Real Estate Group. After more than a year of groundwork, including some revisions, such as removal of the signs from the building facade, sale of the structure is expected to close by March 1, with construction to start soon thereafter, and wrapping up in the fall. (Courtesy image) SOUTH PORTLAND — As the sale of the former National Guard Armory in South Portland speeds toward a mid-February closing, the city council has completed a series of contract deals to facilitate reconstruction of the site.

In November 2014, Priority Real Estate Group of Topsham agreed to buy the building from the city for $700,000 — a price realized after the building had been on the market for several months.

Priority plans to turn the historic building into a convenience store and gas station, with office space on the second flood.

The company will make way for 10 bays of gas pumps at the site by demolishing the armory’s 25,000-square-foot drill hall — an expansive space well remembered to locals as the site of community dances and basketball games. However, it will save the two-story armory office facing Broadway, known as the Head House.

Much of 2015 was taken up by rezoning the armory property to allow for the change of use, and by Priority getting the project through planning board review. The board unanimously approved the plans in early November.

The sale of the armory, which the city bought in 2006 for $650,000, is now set to close Feb. 15, although the offi- cial purchase and sale agreement gives the transfer until March 1 to be finalized.

“Although we expect to close by then, we pushed it out to March 1 to make sure we have time to get the site cleaned up,” said City Manager Jim Gailey.

In a series of votes at its Monday, Jan. 4 meeting, the city council approved contracts to hire consultants to clean the site of any environmental hazards, and to hire historical preservation agents, the latter a condition of accepting federal grant money for the cleanup.

Although the city will front the matching funds needed for the cleanup, Gailey said the purchase and sale agreement stipulates that Priority reimburse those costs at the closing.

Meanwhile, the historical assessment and monitoring will result in a report that may be put on public display, either in city hall, the local historical society or in the new conveniences store.

According to Gailey, a request for proposal was sent to four historic building consultants recommended by Greater Portland Landmarks. He got back two proposals, one from M. Gaertner Historic Building Consultants of Portland for $9,270 and the other from Sutherland Conservation and Consulting for $14,560. Each proposal was reviewed by South Portland Property Holding, LLC, the property holding form created by Priority for the armory, and the lower bid was recommended to the council, which approved it unanimously.

As part of its work, Gaertner will create a photographic history of the building dating back to its reported origins as a Works Progress Administration project in 1941.

“This is actually one of the benefits of going through the federal process,” said Priority Group spokesman David Latulippe. “Not only are we able to preserve the building, but the history of it as well. What we will end up with is going to be a document that we can either hand over to the city, or put on display.”

Other contracts approved Monday for the armory, located at 682 Broadway, included hiring Credere Associates of Westbrook to monitor cleanup of the site under a federal Brownfield’s grant. The city received two other bids — from Woodard & Curran, and Weston and Sampson — and while Credere will charge hourly rates for its work ranging from $55 (for an administrative assistant) to $130 (for the project manager), the total cost is not expected to exceed $1,000

Environmental cleanup will be paid for by a Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund grant issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and administered by the Greater Portland Council of Governments. The grant is $160,000 and covers both removing any oils or toxins from the ground and asbestos from the building — the latter aspect the one that triggered the historical review, as it will necessarily involve demolition on parts of the Head House, which is decorated along its art deco fa├žade with concrete reliefs of various armaments and weaponry.

“Because of this work, some of the historic aspects of the property will be affected, but great efforts will be made to minimize the effects,” Gailey said

The city, and ultimately Priority, must kick in $32,000 as a match for the federal money, but the contracts with both Gaertner and Credere can be counted toward that requirement, Gailey said.

Although redevelopment of the armory has won widespread praise from city leaders, planners and site neighbors alike — many citing the need for a gas station in the downtown area of South Portland, at the base of the Casco Bay Bridge, not everybody seems delighted at the prospect.

“I’d just like to note a bit of irony in all of this,” said Orchard Street resident Patricia Whyte at the Jan. 4 council meeting. “We’re cleaning out asbestos and what are we going to replace it with? We are going to sink large tanks into the ground and fill them with oil.”

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