SKOWHEGAN — The three-story building with the flaking yellow paint and vacant windows — Skowhegan’s downtown eyesore — will be gone before the snow flies.

Demolition of the old Wallace Radio Shop and two other buildings that wrap around it at the corner of Madison Avenue and Commercial Street is expected to start Oct. 22 and last a few days.

In their place will be green space — a park with benches and a pedestrian zone.

“A lot of people in the community have been talking about those corner buildings for a long time,” said John Witherspoon, president and CEO of Skowhegan Savings, which helped finance the sale. “To me, it was an embarrassment for the town; a false impression of who Skowhegan is. Skowhegan is a lot better than those buildings reflect.”

Witherspoon estimated it would take $500,000 to $700,000 to restore the buildings, a prohibitive cost during these economic times.

Crews started removing windows, copper plumbing and electrical wiring from the three buildings last week. The project should be completed by the end of November, Witherspoon said.

The purchase of the buildings by the Somerset Economic Development Corp. was finished at the end of September.

Witherspoon is also president of the bank’s Elm Street Corp. and its Skowhegan Savings Charitable Foundation, which donated half of the estimated $150,000 for the development corporation to purchase and dispose of the buildings, which were all built in the late 1800s.

Matching the foundation’s $75,000 grant, the other half of the money is coming from a group of local investors, Witherspoon said.

“As a mutual bank, we don’t have stockholders, so instead of paying a dividend to stockholders, we’re earmarking a percentage of our income to this foundation to reinvest in our community,” Witherspoon said. “The bank, in essence is owned by its communities.”

Witherspoon said the bank plans to contribute $1 million during the next five years to the foundation and to establish non-profit status with the Internal Revenue Service.

The Wallace building, most recently home to Skowhegan Electronics, was bought from Edward Dillingham and Eric Shupp of Florida for $25,078, according to the Somerset County Registry of Deeds.

The other two buildings, which connect in the middle, were once home to weekly newspapers the Independent Reporter and the Somerset Reporter. The young Margaret Chase Smith, who went onto become a U.S. senator, worked in the distribution department of the Independent Reporter in the 1920s.

Those buildings were bought from Lois Miller of Solon for $20,521, who bought the buildings in 1986. Miller’s purchase price was not listed on documents at the county Registry of Deeds or at the Skowhegan town office.

Stipulations on the purchase and sale restrict use of the land and building to public uses, including road improvement and public space, a point echoed by Jim Batey, executive director of the Somerset Economic Development Corp.

Batey said plans include “enhancing the corner” for potential improvement with traffic flow and “additional green space for public use that we are confident will benefit the local community, draw visitors to the area and support economic development in Skowhegan.”

Witherspoon said the foundation and the development corporation will work with various groups in town, including Main Street Skowhegan, to come up with a plan for use of that space. He said plans to use the 2,500-square-foot lot as a park do not preclude future use as a business or retail location, but that would require the blessing of local investors and the Main Street coalition.

The three-story Skowhegan Electronics building at the corner was bought by Dillingham, a Skowhegan native, and his partner, in 2008 for $17,000.

The building was constructed in 1881 by attorney James Leavitt and was a centerpiece of the downtown business district. During the 1940s, Wallace’s Radio Shop had a loudspeaker mounted to the outside of the building and played popular tunes for downtown shoppers.

In May 1945, traffic stopped outside the shop to hear the radio broadcast that World War II had ended.

Tom McCarthy, whose company McCarthy Enterprises of Skowhegan is doing the demolition work, said he was aware of the historic significance of the speaker and removed it himself earlier in the week.

He has donated the speaker to the Skowhegan History House & Museum.

McCarthy said taking down three buildings in the middle of downtown is a big and dangerous job. He said some of Madison Avenue and Commercial Street may each be closed to one lane at times during demolition.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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