May 24, 2019

Council authorizes sale of Thorndike Hotel

ROCKLAND — The City Council authorized City Manager Cathy Sleeper on Monday to enter an agreement to sell the Thorndike Hotel to New York dentist George Klemm for $150,000.

The agreement is contingent upon Sleeper and City Attorney Carol Maines’ ability to work out a few contractual details the council found troublesome. Although the council was prepared to approve the sale at Monday night’s meeting, they backed away from the deal on two points.

The first was the buyer’s demand for an environmental assessment of potential problems in removing the building’s 10,000-gallon fuel tank. The second was Klemm’s insistence that he be allowed to cancel the deal if it costs him more than $2,500 to clear title to the property.

Mayor Michael McNeil questioned Klemm’s demand that a private inspector be involved in the removal of the fuel tank. He noted that the city had agreed to cover the cost of its removal in accordance with Department of Environmental Protection regulations.

“One of the problems is the seller’s (the city’s) responsibility to clean up any contamination at the site,” McNeil noted. He said the city should undertake the removal under DEP rules, not “as recommended by the buyer’s consultant.”

City Attorney Maines said the request for a private consultant was proposed after the she refused to agree to an earlier request that the sale be contingent on an inspection after the tank was removed. She added that because the Thorndike heated its water by oil, “it would be kind of awkward after digging it out to get stuck having to put in a new tank.”

Councilor Robert Peabody said that while he understood Klemm’s concerns, meeting the DEP’s removal standards should be adequate.

“The banks won’t finance the sale of property with underground tanks,” he noted. “This is something even if we don’t sell to these people that we will run into down the road.”

McNeil agreed with Peabody’s assessment, adding, “We are accepting the responsibility to remove the tank and if there is contamination we are responsible for that, too.”

On the issue of setting a $2,500 limit on the title search, Peabody stressed that Klemm should be required to document his costs. He suggested that unless the terms of the title search were set down in advance, Klemm could theoretically include expenses such as air fare as part of the cost of the title search.

When Maines observed that “if they want to get out of it (the contract), we’ll sell it to someone else,” Peabody remarked, “Yeah, there’s a long line waiting.”

The city had asked $250,000 for the property, which was acquired earlier this year for nonpayment of taxes. So far, Klemm’s $150,000 formal offer was the only one submitted.

Under the terms of the offer, Klemm would make a down payment of $10,000 and close the purchase within 60 days. The council intends to use the proceeds from the sale to offset the $500,000 cost of the Bok Building, which it wants to convert into a new City Hall. The voters will decide that issue on Nov. 5.

Aware that election day is rapidly approaching, Councilor Jean Chalmers said, “I want to have it sold by Nov. 5.”

McNeil told his colleagues that if Klemm agreed to the council’s suggested changes, “if we could get these changed I’d sell this beauty in a heartbeat.”

In other matters, the council turned down a request from Up With People for a $200 donation to help them defray the cost of this weekend’s visit to the city. McNeil told the tour’s representative that the city had no extra money in its $5 million budget to assist them.

“I wish there was a place where we could put our hands in a pocket and come up with some money,” McNiel said. He suggested that “the good citizens of the midcoast area” could make a donation.

The council also reviewed a proposed contract with Consumat Sanco, the Bethlehem, N.H., firm that handles the city’s solid waste for $42.50 per ton. Increases in the yearly contract will be based on the Consumer Price Index of the previous year. The council turned to the New Hampshire firm after the Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp. (PERC) increased the city’s solid waste tipping fees from $13 per ton to $47.

PERC’s reputation is apparently so tarnished around City Hall that when Maines pointed out that that a PERC spokesman recently indicated that they might lower their fees, McNeil clutched his breast and said, “I have a basic feeling in my chest that I wouldn’t believe PERC if they said their name was PERC.”

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