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City Council mulls buying Waterman Drive building for new South Portland City Hall

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City Council mulls buying Waterman Drive building for new South Portland City Hall

SOUTH PORTLAND — A local developer is taking another shot at convincing city officials that 100 Waterman Drive is the ideal place for City Hall.

Andrew Ingalls, of CBRE/The Boulos Co., was scheduled to take the City Council on a guided tour of his four-story, 32,000 square-foot development on Thursday. The council was expected to discuss the idea at workshop after the tour.

Ingalls first offered the building to the city shortly after it was completed in 2008, when the real estate market tanked. At the time, his offer was generally ignored.

But now, some councilors are interested in the proposal, hoping to score a bargain.

"Truthfully, it could be one hell of a steal," Councilor Maxine Beecher said. "You'd be a fool not to investigate."

Mayor Tom Coward said the building would be an ideal place to consolidate call city departments under one roof. Coward said this is an opportunity for the city to get ahead of the facility problems at the existing City Hall at 25 Cottage Road, before they become too great to manage.

"Government isn't particularly agile when dealing with things like this, so I want to get on it," Coward said. "This is a viable option. But I'm willing to be persuaded that we should do something else."

Ingalls' building was listed for $6.4 million when it was first offered to the council. But he said he would be willing to sell it to the city for cost – $4.8 million – even though he said there are several other businesses interested in the building. 

"We're not going to go under it," he said. "We can't."

The reduced price, however, is not low enough for some skeptical councilors, who are more interested in eventually making Mahoney Middle School the new City Hall.

Councilor Tom Blake said he was disappointed the council was even considering buying a new building that is now listed at $5.4 million, given the current economy and other pressing needs in the city.

"It's kind of like feeding your kid cheese sandwiches and saying, 'Sorry, kids, we have no money,'" he said. "Then, you put them to bed and you and your wife eat steak."

For more than a year, the council has been trying to set priorities for its facility needs. Recently, it placed a new Public Works and Transportation center at the top of the list, which does not mention City Hall. Armory rehabilitation and water resource protection projects rank second and third. 

All of those projects were presented against the backdrop of a $42 million bond to replace the high school, which could go before voters in November.

Buildings like the high school and the Public Works and Transportation center, parts of which are condemned, should be the council's focus, Blake said.

"We have greater needs," he said. "This is just not the time."

Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, who as a resident opposed a zoning amendment to allow the four-story building, said she would try to keep an open mind. But she doesn't believe the city is in a financial position to consider the offer.

"City Hall has problems," she said, "but it's not a priority."

Although not on the council's priority list, a new City Hall has been on the radar for years. The Armory was once considered an ideal location, and Beecher said she has seen plans for a new, three-story building behind the current City Hall.

Councilor Linda Boudreau said she was eager to look at the Waterman Drive building and that the city should not pass up the opportunity to get a good deal. She said it's the council's responsibility to provide workers with an efficient, safe, work-friendly environment.

"Sometimes you have to look at an opportunity and look at it hard," she said.

Boudreau said the city could get creative with its financing to avoiding borrowing money to purchase the building, which would allow the city to stay focused on other needs. Meanwhile, the city could use money from selling city-owned land and buildings towards the purchase, rather than putting more of it into the land bank, she said.

"I don't think it's like we're starting with no money available," said Boudreau, who compared investing in the existing building to "throwing money out the window."

Although built to energy-efficient standards, Ingalls said his building is not certified to U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards because of the costs. 

City Manager Jim Gailey said last year's heating bill for 100 Waterman Drive was $8,700 with the empty building kept at 53 degrees. Meanwhile, the city has budgeted $14,000 to heat City Hall and another $15,000 to heat the Planning and Development offices at the former Hamlin School.

Councilor Jim Hughes said he is open to the idea, but it would all come down to cost.

"Now that we have something available, we should look at it," Hughes said. "Whether or not we need, it is another question."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net