Thursday, December 5, 2013
AUGUSTA — Kennebec Arsenal owner and would-be developer Tom Niemann said his plan to renovate the historic but neglected riverside complex building-by-building will result in five of its eight buildings being redeveloped within the next 36 months.
The doors and windows of the the riverfront granite buildings of the Kennebec Arsenal have been boarded up for years.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
The long-abandoned Kennebec Arsenal figured to be the focal point of a riverside development of housing, shops, offices and public space that never materialized.
Niemann has owned the property since acquiring it from the state in 2007, and little has happened there beyond vandalism and deterioration.
State officials, who are reviewing the plan that Niemann submitted last month, have expressed skepticism about the developer's latest efforts, saying they've heard such promises before. They have threatened a lawsuit against Niemann for his inaction on the property.
Niemann submitted the plan in response to a letter from the Office of the Maine Attorney General that threatened a lawsuit if his North Carolina firm, Niemann Capital, didn't take steps to prevent further damage to the property by Oct. 1.
State officials subsequently agreed to extend that deadline by three weeks, and Niemann said he submitted his plan for the complex on Oct. 22 -- the last day of the extended deadline.
Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the plan Niemann submitted is under review, She had no further information.
State historian Earle Shettleworth has described the property as one of the most complete, best-preserved federal military arsenals from its pre-Civil War time period still surviving in the country.
Niemann said state officials seem more focused on making sure the historic aspects of the buildings are renovated first, but he said no developer can afford to maintain a property just for its historic merits. He has proposed renovating the National Historic Landmark property one building at a time.
"By completing renovations with a building-by-building approach, we will have people living in the buildings, using them and bringing life to the Arsenal complex," Niemann said. "In this way we will meet historic codes while invigorating the area economically."
Niemann said he believes his firm and the state will come to an understanding about the property shortly.
Shettleworth said Friday that he could not discuss the Arsenal or Niemann because the state Attorney General's Office has said the issue could become the subject of a lawsuit.
Niemann said he was at the Arsenal this past week, working with a contractor on the Gate House building at the lower entrance to the complex, which is between the Kennebec River and former Augusta Mental Health Institute campus off Hospital Street.
He said he is about to sign with a firm that will seek commercial tenants, and he is also looking at developing some of the property into housing for senior citizens.
Niemann said he hasn't been able to focus on the project until now because of the recession.
Niemann said state officials turned down his offer to tour the complex with him to see his progress, and so he could explain his plan. He said progress on the complex has included removing graffiti and cleaning up other damage by vandals, and that he has hired a caretaker.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:
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This 2007 aerial photo shows the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta. It was taken during a minor spring flood and so the granite pier, bottom right, is covered by Kennebec River.