Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The City Council reversed course on the future of the former Central Fire Station on Monday, agreeing to sell the property to a developer whose earlier offer was turned down.
A Saco firefighter backs a truck into the Central Fire Station on the last day of its occupancy in 2011. The city has agreed to sell the 1938 fire station to a developer for $100,000.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
The council last month narrowly rejected an offer from Cynthia Taylor of the nonprofit Housing Initiatives of New England to buy the old station for $50,000. Her new offer of $100,000 received unanimous support from the council Monday night.
About 80 residents -- many of them in red "Save the old Saco fire station" T-shirts -- gave councilors a standing ovation following the vote.
"I'm thrilled we don't have to keep fighting this," said resident Colleen Sargent, a vocal supporter of saving historic buildings in the city. "I've seen so many buildings torn down in my lifetime."
The station, built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1938 during the Great Depression, has been empty since the fire department moved to a new building in April 2011. Since then, the city has fielded a handful of offers, but none near the asking price of $474,000.
Last month, the Thornton Avenue building was placed on Maine Preservation's annual list of most-endangered historic resources because of its uncertain fate.
Council discussion of razing the station to create a parking lot drew a passionate outcry from residents who said they wanted to save a piece of the city's history. On Sunday, about 50 residents held a rally in front of the station and posed for a photo that was presented to Taylor after the council vote. Mayor Mark Johnston asked that the photo be hung in the station once it is renovated.
Taylor said she will invest $1.2 million in the building to create four to six affordable senior housing units and commercial space. Though the building will be redeveloped by a nonprofit, it will be fully taxable.
The purchase and sale agreement with the city requires she remove the administration building next to the station. The building has no historical significance and its removal will allow for more parking, Taylor said.
After the meeting, Taylor said she will apply to have the fire station placed on the National Register of Historic Places. She expects construction to begin next spring.
Taylor said the support of the community was "extremely important" as she worked with city officials to revise her offer.
"These folks in downtown Saco have worked so hard. It speaks volumes of the people who care a lot about the community," she said.
Mike Tremblay, a Saco police officer and fire department historian, said the old fire station is an important part of the city's history. During the 1947 fires that swept across York County, firefighters were fed at the station, he said.
"This was home for a lot of people," he said. "There's a lot of history."
Johanna Hoffman, chairwoman of the city's Historic Preservation Committee, stood in the hallway outside council chambers after the vote and pulled from her bag a 3-inch binder bulging with papers, the product of more than a year of work to save the station. She was part of the ad-hoc committee formed to look at the future use of the fire station even before the department moved to its new building on North Street.
The council made the right decision Monday and the community learned a lesson about standing up for what it believes in, Hoffman said.
"It's empowering the community to step forward and take action when a decision is being made that will affect the whole neighborhood," she said. "This community action is what should be happening in all small towns. This is what makes change."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: