June 06, 2020

City, EMH propose swap > Deal for lab building may rescue old Waterworks site

BANGOR — More than 20 years of trying to redevelop the old Waterworks soon may come to fruition. Officials confirmed Thursday that tentative plans call for Eastern Maine Healthcare to develop offices in the State Street landmark, obtaining the 123-year-old facility in a swap for its former lab building on Sylvan Road.

A purchase option agreement on the properties will be on the agenda of the City Council at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The agreement would provide:

That EMH exchange its former Affiliated Laboratories Inc. building at 246 Sylvan Road for the city-owned Waterworks, located just beyond the Eastern Maine Medical Center campus on State Street.

That the city pay EMH for the value of the ALI land and buildings — a total of $1.025 million, the funds to be invested in the Waterworks renovation. The city hopes to recoup that money by selling the ALI property to a business that might want to build or expand in the city.

That the city assist EMH in obtaining the approvals needed for the development. These would include OKs from the Department of Transportation and the railroad.

That EMH renovate the Waterworks and use it for support services. These probably will include the fiscal department and part of the information department.

That once the ALI property is conveyed to the city, EMH pay rent for any portion it continues to occupy until the Waterworks space is available. The city also could ask the hospital to vacate the ALI building with 60 days’ notice if it had a potential developer.

The agreement is subject to the approval of both the City Council and the boards of EMH.

“The city is very pleased with the tentative arrangement we have worked out with EMH,” Mayor Timothy Woodcock said Thursday. “I believe it’s an arrangement that will work in the best interests of both EMH and the city of Bangor.”

He added that EMH deserved “community recognition for coming to the rescue” of a historic landmark, calling the proposal “a creative solution.”

“We’re excited about it,” EMH Executive Vice President Kenneth Hews said Thursday of the proposed swap. “We think it’s a win-win situation.”

The total cost of the project hasn’t been figured yet, Hews said, although certainly it will be “in the seven figures. … We’ll be working with architects over the next several weeks,” Hews said, to determine the best way to build the office space.

“We want to preserve as much as possible for historic purposes,” Hews said of the complex. The only building that might be proposed for demolition would be the filter house, but even there, Hews said, “we would consider keeping the filter house if there is enough parking” on the site.

Offices will not be built in the gatehouse, closest to the river, Hews said. That structure is “under consideration for public use at some point.” A fisherman himself, he is high on the idea of having one building set aside to enable visitors to have “a sense of the elegance of the river.”

Vacant for more than three decades, the brick complex on 1.8 acres on the banks of the Penobscot River dates to 1875, when the wheelhouse, old pump house and hose house were constructed. The filter house was built to provide cleaner water in 1907, a few years after the city was struck by 540 cases of waterborne typhoid fever.

Later buildings included a newer pump house and wheelhouse, aeration house, gatehouse and wood-frame engineer’s house, the latter designed by architect Wilfred Mansur.

Various ideas for reusing the property have cropped up since the city changed its water source to Floods Pond in Otis back in 1959, but none came to pass.

Two years ago, the Sea Dog Brewing Co. was working on plans for a brewery on the site, but did not proceed.

In 1995, a Yarmouth developer wanted to put a Muddy Rudder restaurant in some of the Waterworks buildings, while demolishing others for parking. The city would have invested money in that project. The plans were not pursued because of the high cost of installing a signalized crossing of the railroad track between the complex and State Street.

That work and the widening of State Street for turning lanes have been priced at $278,000, a cost the city will pick up because it appears that any redevelopment of the site will necessitate such infrastructure work.

Rodney McKay, community and economic development director, said that the city will use federal block grant funds to move the engineer’s house, at a cost of $25,000, and to spend $100,000 in environmental remediation on the site — cleaning up the asbestos and pigeon droppings.

The remediation would have been required, McKay explained, even if the complex had been demolished eventually, a move that would have cost the city $483,000.

McKay had talked to the Historic Preservation Commission about tearing down the engineer’s house to make room for parking, but the panel asked the city to look into relocating it. The city hopes to move the building across the street to Cascade Park, where it will house pumping and electrical equipment, as well as restrooms.

As for the $1 million the city is kicking in toward the project, “that should be a short-term investment for the city,” McKay said. He expects that the 10,300-square-foot ALI building, a 1982 structure on 19 acres, will be attractive to companies looking to move to Bangor.

Communications between the city and EMH over the Waterworks site have been taking place for nearly a year, explained Peter D’Errico, the former airport director now serving as a consultant on special projects for the city.

D’Errico had kind words Thursday for the work EMH — the city’s largest employer — already has accomplished on another property.

Plans for the Waterworks, he said, “come on the heels of what EMH has done on [Westgate Mall on] Union Street, modernizing and renovating a tired shopping center.” Before the hospital began work there in 1996, a good portion of the mall was empty.

Councilor Michael Aube, chairman of the community and economic development committee, said he was looking forward to the restoration of the Waterworks buildings, and to the prospect of activity there.

The area near the intersection of State Street and Hogan Road, Aube said, “is clearly a gateway into the city,” one which will benefit from improvements to the Waterworks complex.

For the long-vacant brick landmark, he said, the proposal could mean “a renaissance.”

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