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August 26, 2013

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Hotel developer Jim Brady stands outside the former Portland Press Herald building, left, at Congress and Exchange streets last week. Brady is converting the site into a 110-room hotel, with plans to open in spring 2015.

Developer of Press Hotel capitalizes on building's history

By J. Craig Anderson
canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – When Jim Brady looks around inside the debris-strewn, empty husk of the former Portland Press Herald building in downtown Portland, he sees elegant guest rooms, conference rooms, a floating staircase, an upscale restaurant and a luxury health and fitness center.

"I can tell you where every little wall goes, and what room sizes are what, and how many suites there are versus standard (rooms)," he said.

Brady, a longtime hotel developer and Olympic silver medal winner in yachting, specializes in recycling historic commercial buildings.

He returned to Portland in 2011 after spending two years in Italy and already has two projects in the works: a planned hotel in the former Press Herald building and redevelopment of the Portland Company Marine Complex on the eastern waterfront.

Brady has worked on renovation projects for Doubletree Hotels, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn branded hotels.

But The Press Hotel, as he plans to call it, will be different. It's Brady's baby.

"The projects I worked on in Italy, I was just a consultant for the development company," he said. "I was not an owner."

Brady said he plans to take a far more hands-on approach with The Press Hotel, although he will hire a professional management company to handle day-to-day operations. His plan is to open the 110-room hotel in the spring of 2015.

"Because I'm local and I'm going to be right here, I'm going to be heavily involved in the operation from a standpoint of trying not to get in the way of the operator but actually trying to help them," Brady said.

The former Press Herald building, at 390 Congress St., was built in two sections, a seven-story portion in 1923 and a five-story addition in 1948. It has been sitting vacant since the newspaper relocated to One City Center in 2010.

Brady, former president of the Olympia Companies, and Kevin Bunker, an advocate for downtown redevelopment, signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the property in June 2012 with John Cacoulidis, president of Grand Metro Builders of New York Corp.

Cacoulidis purchased the building in 2009 from the newspaper's parent company, MaineToday Media Inc. He gutted the interior with plans to convert the property into an office or mixed-use building, but later opted not to move forward.

"The whole building was taken back down to the concrete floor," Brady said. "(Cacoulidis) did a lot of the work."

Still, Brady estimates his construction costs will be in the neighborhood of $10 million.

And he doesn't even own the property yet.

Brady said the delay in closing on the building, the price of which he would not disclose, is intentional. His plan is to complete the purchase late this year and begin construction in February.

That way, he can open in spring 2015, in time to ramp up and train the staff before tourist season hits its seasonal peak, he said.

And the $10 million estimate for construction does not include a 45 percent discount in state and federal historic preservation tax credits that the project will receive.

"Projects like this wouldn't be getting done without that tax credit," Brady said.

Redevelopment of a historic property is a laborious endeavor that involves complex financing and multiple levels of regulatory approval.

Some developers won't touch them, but Brady seems to gravitate toward them, said Drew Sigfridson, president of the Maine Real Estate and Development Association.

"Jim's a pretty tenacious guy, and a very smart individual," said Sigfridson, principal and designated broker at CBRE/The Boulos Co. in Portland. "If he doesn't know something, he'll just really spend the time to figure it out."

Sigfridson said he worked with Brady through his former venture, The Olympia Companies, a developer in the Portland area from 1999 to 2009. The company completed more than $200 million in development projects, including five hotels, three office buildings and three mixed-use projects.

Then Brady went to Italy, but Sigfridson said it's almost like he never left.

"My impression is that he kind of stepped right back in where he left off," Sigfridson said.

In the meantime, other developers have begun building or renovating hotels in downtown Portland. In all, the downtown supply of hotel rooms is expected to increase by about 50 percent based on projects already under way.

Brady admits he's a little uneasy about that. "I do have concern about the total amount of supply of rooms coming into the marketplace," he said.

However, Brady said The Press Hotel would be a full-service, boutique hotel with historic and newspaper themes that would not compete directly with the bulk of Portland's hotels, which he said are bland and offer more limited service.

He also believes waiting to open in 2015 will give consumer demand more time to grow into all of the additional room supply.

Portland Regional Chamber CEO Chris Hall said Brady was able to convince him with market data that Portland's tourism industry can accommodate all of the additional hotel rooms being built in the city.

"He did an extraordinarily good job of making the business case for these investments," Hall said. "I was persuaded."

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson



A hotel developer is buying the former Portland Press Herald building, above, on Congress Street, with plans to convert it into The Press Hotel.

The current owner had already gutted a great deal of the building’s interior space, as seen in the central stairwell ...

... and the old second-floor newsroom.



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