PORTLAND – A developer won the approval he needed Wednesday night from Portland’s Historic Preservation Board to convert a downtown landmark into a boutique hotel and restaurant.
Wednesday’s board meeting also gave the public a look at what will become of the prominent building on Congress Street that housed the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram until 2010.
Kevin Bunker, the Portland-based developer, said the former newspaper building will become The Exchange, a 110-room hotel with an 80-seat restaurant.
“It is an important historic building,” said board member Martha Burke, after saying that she hopes Bunker will be allowed to keep the Press Herald signs on the wall facing Exchange Street and over the entrance on Federal Street.
But Bunker, who represents the property’s owner, John Cacoulidis, said he received notice Monday from MaineToday Media, the newspaper’s parent company, that he may have to remove all of the signs.
“They were concerned that if we kept the sign (on a canopy) on Congress Street, people would think they have gone out of business,” Bunker said. “It’s a valid business concern.”
Bunker said he plans to remove the sign on Congress Street, which has “Portland Press Herald” and “Maine Sunday Telegram” on it, as part of the renovation but would like to keep the less visible Press Herald signs on the Exchange and Federal street sides.
Bunker said he plans to speak with company officials about whether he can keep those signs.
The Historic Preservation Board voted 6-0 to grant Bunker a certificate of appropriateness permit but did not address signs or exterior lighting. Those issues will have to come back to the board for additional review.
Board members gave Bunker permission to remove a white-painted fire escape from the Federal Street side of the building.
“We think it is reasonably hideous,” said the project’s architect, David Lloyd of Portland. “It will be a much more beautiful and inviting facade without the fire escape.”
According to the plan, the hotel’s main entrance, on Exchange Street, will be frameless and all glass. The Congress Street canopy will be rebuilt with copper to match its original appearance. Four maple trees will be planted on the Federal Street side of the hotel.
Construction is expected to start this summer and last until the middle of 2014. The building is now vacant.
The original seven-story Press Herald building on Federal Street was built in 1923. A five-story addition, overlooking Congress Street and City Hall, was built in 1948.
MaineToday Media sold the property at 390 Congress St. to Cacoulidis, and the newspapers moved into office space at One City Center in May 2010.
Bunker said he is open to working with MaineToday Media to develop interpretive displays and old photographs that would be set up in the hotel to remind guests of the building’s newspaper history.
Bunker said a tunnel that connects the building to a former printing plant on the other side of Congress Street will be sealed off.
Bunker, who received Planning Board approval last month, can now bring his project before the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the National Park Service.
He is seeking historic tax credits, which will require him to meet federal standards for rehabilitation.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: