PORTLAND – A Freeport developer has closed on a vacant three-story brick building on Congress Street that philanthropist Roxanne Quimby had once planned to convert to artist studio and gallery space.

Kenn Guimond purchased the boarded-up, 125-year-old Queen Anne Victorian at 660 Congress St. earlier this month from a foundation run by Quimby. His plans call for at least three apartments on the upper two floors and commercial use of the ground floor, which includes two protruding storefront windows added in 1912 and a third, slightly lower, to attract the gaze of automobile passengers, in 1950.

“In all honesty, it’s a tough project to make the numbers work,” Guimond said. “It really needs a lot, and it needs someone with a special eye for architecture.”

Even with its gutted interior and obvious need for rehabilitation, the building tells an important story about the history of Portland, said Deb Andrews, manager of the city’s historic preservation program.

“It records the evolution of Congress Street,” Andrews said,” from one that had significant amount of residential development and made, over the course of the 20th century, a conversion to primarily commercial corridor.”

Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, purchased the building in early 2009 for $350,000 but ran into problems that included an arson fire, preservation restrictions and the city’s housing replacement ordinance.

The City Council eventually granted a waiver for Quimby’s “project of special merit,” and interior work had begun in January 2010 when a homeless man, trying to keep warm but wary of being seen through a window, built a campfire in an interior room.

Quimby eventually abandoned her artist-in-residence plans and put the building up for sale for $295,000. Guimond, who declined to provide the sale price (and the paperwork won’t arrive at City Hall until January), had been following the story and spoke with neighbors and city officials, including Andrews.

“He was very thorough and methodical in his research,” she said, “and seems to have a great deal of real estate development experience.”

As a historian, Andrews appreciated Guimond’s questions and descriptions of his goals for the building.

“He seemed to really appreciate its architectural character and the various details that contribute to that character,” she said. “He wants to preserve those characteristics.”

Guimond described himself as a designer, builder and developer who has been in business for 35 years, mostly north of Portland. He spent eight years on the board of the Maine College of Art during its renovation and move into the old Porteous department store on Congress Street.

Guimond enlisted his son, Andre, a partner of the Swona Design firm in New York City, as well as several local architects. Guimond envisions a design phase lasting four to five months and renovation taking at least another year.

“My guess is about an 18-month project,” he said. “The fire wasn’t horrendous. And to the degree it encouraged the Quimby group to gut (the interior), that’s great. I don’t think I would have even touched this thing if it hadn’t been gutted. It’s nice that we basically have a blank slate.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]