WESTBROOK – The former Maine Rubber building is the most prominent structure at the western entrance to downtown, just past where Main Street begins.

It’s also the biggest barrier to fully developing that section of the city, said Keith Luke, the city’s economic development director.

Westbrook received a $125,000 Community Development Block Grant last week to help pay for demolishing the blighted 27,000-square-foot building, which has been used for storage since Maine Rubber moved out in the late 1990s.

The building’s owners, brothers David and Jim Elowitch, are meeting with city officials next week to discuss what to do with the property, which is bordered by Main Street, Saco Street and William Clarke Drive.

The city will only use the grant money if the Elowitches cover the rest of the cost of the demolition — roughly another $50,000.

“It creates a carrot-and-stick opportunity,” Luke said.

Though both the city and the owners are eager to replace the building, David Elowitch said he and his brother will only start spending money on the project if they can agree with the city on what to do with the property.

Elowitch said his broker, Mark Malone of Malone Commercial Brokers, has spoken to banks that are interested in building a branch at the location.

City Planner Molly Just said banks are permitted downtown, but a special exception from the Planning Board would be needed to install a drive-through window.

The Planning Board would have to approve a site plan for any new building, Just said.

Because the property is highly visible to people entering Westbrook, city officials would set high standards for the design of a new building, she said. Some criteria might be that it be two stories high, have lots of windows and fit in with the appearance of other buildings in the area.

“That’s the western face of the city,” Just said. “We want our gateways to look nice.”

Luke said the significance of redeveloping the property would be “difficult to overestimate.”

Considering the grant and the slowly improving economy, Luke is optimistic that there will be a plan within 18 months for a mixed-use development at the site that might include a bank, a restaurant or retail stores.

The Elowitches, who manage commercial properties throughout the state, said they’ve been working for 15 years to secure tenants and come up with a plan. They’ve considered a gas station, an office building and a national or local chain restaurant such as Applebee’s or Gritty McDuff’s, but nothing’s come to fruition.

“I’ll believe it when it happens,” Jim Elowitch said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]