PORTLAND – One of downtown Portland’s most prominent and historic buildings has been sold to a landlord with a history of disputes with the city and his tenants over the condition of his properties in the Old Port.
Joseph Soley’s 5 Monument Square LLC bought the People’s United Bank Building at 465 Congress St. on Aug. 22 for $5.6 million, said Steve Baumann, the owner of Compass Commercial Brokers, which represented Soley.
The 10-story, 155-foot-tall building was built in 1909. It was the tallest building in Maine at the time and was known then as the city’s first skyscraper. It stands at Congress and Preble streets, overlooking Monument Square just to the east of the Time & Temperature Building.
Soley, an art buff, said Thursday that he fell in love with the building in 1969, when he drove from Baltimore to Portland on his motorcycle.
“When I first saw that building, I went totally bonkers,” he said. “It’s the most attractive building, I think, in Maine.”
The building’s lobby has high, vaulted ceilings, pillars and marble accents. Its limestone exterior includes detailed ornamental accents.
The building is one of 71 local landmarks and has been the focus of recent preservation efforts, said Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks.
“This is such an important building,” Bassett said. “It’s beautiful. It was meant to be a spectacular space. I think that any owner who has it appreciates the quality of the architecture.”
Soley is a notorious landlord who owns several buildings in the Old Port, including seven properties on Exchange Street that run from Milk Street to Fore Street. He also owns the adjacent buildings that run from Fore Street to Market Street.
Soley, who also owns commercial properties in the Maine Mall area of South Portland, has had repeated run-ins with Portland officials and his tenants in the Old Port.
In 2009, the city evicted residents in 24 of Soley’s apartments on Exchange Street because of fire code violations.
In 1998, four students sued Soley after they were rented a condemned apartment at 9-11 Exchange St. The students refused to pay rent after the problems went unfixed, so Soley seized their belongings.
The students were awarded $62,000 in damages and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld a $1 million punitive award because Soley refused to comply with court orders to turn over information.
Despite his past issues, Soley said he is committed to taking good care of his newly acquired building.
“What we want to do is preserve it in every way possible,” he said.
Soley said he hopes to rename the building 5 Monument Square, which he calls the hub of all Maine activity.
The square and the building are in the city’s arts district, and Soley said he hopes that area will take off, after years in which the recession stifled economic activity.
“I am hoping to see Monument Square the center of a bright, new renaissance for Portland,” Soley said.
Soley said the building is fully rented to office users, except the top floor, which provides a view of Mount Washington on clear days.
Current tenants include People’s United Bank, the Career Management Associates, Dispatch Magazine, First Title of Maine and two law firms — Cloutier Conley & Duffett, and Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger.
Soley said he is talking to potential tenants for the top floor.
A bronze plaque on the building says Maine Bank & Trust, and it is still known as the Maine Bank & Trust building by many in the community.
It is known by historians and preservationists as the former Fidelity Trust Co. building because of an earlier occupant.
The steel-framed, limestone building was designed in the Gothic Beaux-Arts style by G. Henri Desmond of Boston. It’s in the Congress Street Historic District.
“It’s considered Portland’s first true skyscraper,” said Deb Andrews, the city’s historic preservation manager.
Desmond also designed the former Portland Press Herald building at 390 Congress St. and helped design Portland High School on Cumberland Avenue.
When the Congress Street Historic District was created in 2009, architectural assessments were done for all of the buildings, and 465 Congress St. got rave reviews.
“I think it is in very well-preserved condition,” Andrews said Thursday.
Fishman Property Management has been the property manager for about 20 years. President Jim VanValkenburgh said he managed the property from 1977 to 1995 and again from May 2012 until last week.
Baumann said Lincoln Center Property Management, which cares for Soley’s Corner Brook Plaza and The Shops at Clarks Pond in South Portland, will manage the Congress Street building.
This is the fourth time the property has changed hands in the last 20 years. According to the city records, the land and building were sold for $8.9 million in 1995, for $53.5 million in 2006 and for $12 million in 2009.
It was not clear Thursday if all of those sales are directly comparable. An adjacent parking lot was not part of the most recent purchase, for example.
Fidelity Trust was the primary tenant in the building until about 1990, when it was bought by Elizabeth Noyce, the founder of Maine Bank & Trust.
From 2005 to 2007, the building’s exterior was cleaned and restored, and the window metalwork and grilles were repainted their original dark green color.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: