South Portland seeks funds for facelift of former armory

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

SOUTH PORTLAND — The old Maine Army National Guard Armory on Broadway has guarded one of the busiest entrances to South Portland for decades.

But the years have not been kind to the old building. Weather and neglect have joined forces to blight many of the buildings most prominent features.

Its cement stairs have cracked and decayed. Windows have buckled. Decorative cement sculptures have discolored and disintegrated. The green paint on the trim above the main entrance has peeled like a sunburn.

But now, the city has given the OK to pursue $100,000 in state grant money to rehabilitate the exterior of the building on Broadway at the foot of the Casco Bay Bridge.

“The armory is something of a cornerstone in the community,” said Erik Carson, assistant city manager, at a recent City Council meeting.”The overall purpose of this grant is to invest, to imbibe new life in our downtown.”

The city is applying for the grant through a Maine Office of Community Development program aimed at revitalizing downtown districts. If it is successful, the city will match the funds with another $100,000 from an existing Hannaford tax increment financing agreement. City Manager Jim Gailey said that means the $200,000 project would result in no tax increase.

The city isn’t planning for any new features or additions to the building, but would use the money to repair the steps, clean and fortify the bricks and make the cement sculptures whole again.

“The way it looked 20 or 40 years ago,” Gailey said. “That’s how we want it to look again.”

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission says the old armory is a possible candidate for the National Register of Historic Places. South Portland has no other buildings on the register.

“It’s intriguing to have a building like that, which qualifies for the registry,” Gailey said. “But whether we go that route is yet to be seen.”

To play it safe, Gailey said rehabilitation to the exterior will meet the standards set by the U.S. Interior Department for the treatment of historic properties.

But the city manager was quick to point out the pitfalls of historic status.

“It does add some cost,” Gailey said. “Every improvement you do the building has to follow historic preservation guidelines. It’s costlier because you’re limiting yourself into pre-qualified, pre-certified contractors. … And it could restrict what the tenant does, and ultimately we’d like to see the tenant buy the building.”

That tenant is Fore River Soundstage LLC, which recently became the first occupant of the old armory since the National Guard left in the 1990s. Work on the interior of the building, Gailey said, falls on the company and its principal, Eric Matheson.

Matheson, a Cape Elizabeth resident with 40 years of experience in the film industry, hopes to create a film and television production hub in the old armory.

The sound stage will eventually have a full lighting grid and other infrastructure, but first Matheson has to secure the basics needed to heat and power the building — not to mention building some bathrooms.

He said the interior will eventually feature a second floor with offices for other film-related endeavors. And he said two old ammunition-storage vaults on the mezzanine level are perfectly suited for sound booth work, like voice-over recordings.

Under terms of Fore River Soundstage’s lease, Matheson can sublease those portions of the building, but must share 60 percent of the rent with the city.

Despite the work that still must be done, the space is ready for use now. Matheson said two small projects have already been produced in the old armory.

“This space is already better than any warehouse in Boston,” Matheson said. “There’s nothing we can’t build in here.”

Carson, the assistant city manager, said he expects to know whether the city will receive the grant within a few months.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 791-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements


The front steps of the old Maine National Guard Armory on Broadway in South Portland. The city is pursuing $100,000 in state grant money to rehabilitate the exterior of the old building.

The awning over the main entrance to the old Maine National Guard Armory on Broadway in South Portland. The city is pursuing $100,000 in state grant money to rehabilitate the exterior of the old building.

Detail of one of the cement sculptures that adorn the windows at the old Maine National Guard Armory on Broadway in South Portland. Other such sculptures display ammunition, grenades or tank treads. The city is pursuing $100,000 in state grant money to rehabilitate the exterior of the old building.

One of the cement urns placed at entrances to the old Maine National Guard Armory on Broadway in South Portland. The city is pursuing $100,000 in state grant money to rehabilitate the exterior of the old building.

The old Maine National Guard Armory on Broadway in South Portland. The city is pursuing $100,000 in state grant money to rehabilitate the exterior of the old building.

0