New mural sought as Old Port landmark is renovated in Portland

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PORTLAND — As surfaces go, Chris Denison said it was a hardy one.

“Murals don’t last forever when they are outdoors; it lasted as long as I expected it to,” Denison said Monday about his work outside 80 Exchange St.

The trompe l’oeil image covering four stories overlooking Tommy’s Park is gone after 32 years, but the partners who own the building are looking for a local artist to grace the renovated building with a work of their own.

The Fathom Cos., which includes Press Hotel developer Jim Brady, is seeking proposals for a new mural on the exterior wall.

“The 80 Exchange Street Mural project is an investment in the city’s future and will provide a contemporary visual public art display and add color and visual interest, character and a unique sense of place to the location,” the call for proposals says, adding it must last at least 15 years.

The mural replaces the faux exterior Denison completed in 1986 at a cost of about $24,000, all of it raised privately. That mural, in turn, replaced one he painted in 1976 that came down when the exterior wall was replaced.

“We took parts of the old post office that had been across the street and parts of City Hall and added a little imagination,” he said of the 1986 mural.

Fathom bought the building from Steve Parker last December and is in the process of what Brady called a “gut renovation” of the upper three floors of the building.

The ground-floor retail and restaurant spaces remain intact and occupied, while the floors above are to become Class A office space, Brady said.

Class A space is defined as having “high-quality standard finishes, state-of-the-art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence” by the Building Owners and Managers Association International.

“We’re excited to be making a significant effort in the Old Port, and to be using historic tax credits and bringing a building that was in need of some care up to a higher standard,” Brady said.

Using the state and federal tax credits to renovate the building requires oversight to maintain the historic integrity of the building, and the city Historic Preservation Board has also been apprised of plans for the new mural, Brady said.

Interested artists must be Maine-based, according to the call for proposals, and have until July 15 to respond.

An as-yet-to-be-determined selection committee will evaluate proposals. Criteria to be considered include artistic merit, local significance and a design that is “sensitive to social, environmental, historical, and/or other relevant contexts,” according to the proposal.

Artists making it to the second round will receive $500 to refine their proposals, and need to consider a budget between $40,000 and $80,000 with an envisioned completion date in May 2019.

Denison was approached by Fathom about a new mural, but said it is time to let someone else take on the project. He said it took about six weeks to complete the mural in 1986, while working with as many as three painters.

Now 65, Denison said he has moved on to glasswork. At the time he painted the mural on Exchange Street, he also painted the “blueprint mural” outside the building at 48 Free St.

“It was one of the best surfaces I’ve ever painted on,” Denison said.

The Free Street mural was removed in 2016 when the exterior wall was repaired. Similar moisture problems affected the Exchange Street mural, but Brady said he is looking forward to new art.

“We are excited to review … things we might not have even thought of,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Work continues June 8 on renovations to 80 Exchange St. in Portland. The building’s owners are now seeking an artist to paint a mural to replace the 32-year-old trompe l’oeil removed in early spring.

The mural that once graced the exterior of 80 Exchange St. in Portland was painted in 1986 and was deteriorating from moisture damage, artist Chris Denison said.

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