This story was revised at 11:45 a.m., May 19, 2011, to correct the purchase price for the Sullivan Street property. The property was purchased for $55,000 and the renovation budget is $85,000, totaling $140,000.


BIDDEFORD — The Biddeford Housing Authority is searching for a nonprofit organization interested in occupying the first floor of a vacant apartment building on Sullivan Street.

The three-story building is adjacent to Canopy Park and across from the closed St. Andre Church. The park, with a meandering pathway and small gardens, was developed on city-owned property in 2005 to be a neighborhood gathering place.

Biddeford Housing Authority Executive Director Guy Gagnon said he hopes the nonprofit and park will be a centerpiece in the neighborhood of mostly rental properties, some of them in disrepair.

The authority bought the property, a foreclosure, for $55,000 with Community Development Block Grant funds. The renovation budget is $85,000.

The building’s exterior siding is worn and some windows are boarded up with plywood. Inside, flooring is damaged as are some walls. Gagnon said the building has “good bones” and most of the work to be done is cosmetic — from refinishing floors to painting over mint green and pale pink walls.

On Tuesday, a demolition crew was removing a run-down shed in the rear of the building. Interior renovations will begin in June, Gagnon said.

The City Council in December approved using the block grant funds to buy the building. City officials initially intended to renovate it and sell it to someone who would live in one unit and rent out the others, but community development officials instead proposed bringing in the nonprofit to anchor the property and renting two upstairs units.

“The idea is to have a group here (that serves the residents) and to keep an eye on the neighborhood,” Gagnon said.

The housing authority has not determined what rents it will charge for the apartments and nonprofit space. Gagnon said they hope to keep rent low for the nonprofit.

Andy Greif is executive director of the Community Bicycle Center, which serves at-risk youth by leading bike rides, teaching bike repair and other activities. Greif said running a nonprofit near the population it serves is ideal.

“The closer you are in proximity to whoever you’re working with, it’s easier to access programing,” he said.

The bicycle center and other nonprofits looked at the 1,100-square-foot space, but it is too small for them all to share. Still, it has a lot of potential, he said.

“They really need and want a nonprofit in there to be an anchor in the community,” he said. “It could be an incubator for a nonprofit starting out that needs low rent.”

Gagnon said he is concerned that the neighborhood could deteriorate further.

“I’m already worried about the neighborhood with the church closing,” Gagnon said. “The church was the community.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland cited declining numbers of priests and parishioners and rising building maintenance costs as the reasons it closed St. Andre. The church celebrated its last Mass on Dec. 31.

The church building is for sale, but, “it is not something that can be renovated overnight,” Gagnon said. But building renovations can have a domino effect, he said.

The apartment building next door to the city-owned building was purchased last year and the new owners, who live in one of the apartments, have done a nice job renovating it, Gagnon said. Home ownership in primarily rental neighborhoods also helps to revitalize them and provide stability.

Gagnon said he hopes to identify a viable nonprofit organization by the end of the month before renovation work starts.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]