AUGUSTA — The state may initiate legal action against a developer who bought the Kennebec Arsenal in 2007 but has yet to do anything with the property, the director of special projects at the Bureau of General Services said Tuesday.

“Our next step is to seek legal action through the court system and say, ‘You forfeited your right to use the property,'” Alan Henry said during a meeting of the Capitol Planning Commission.

Henry said state officials met with North Carolina developer Tom Niemann in April and gave him 45 days to find another developer to take over the project. That hasn’t happened, and the buildings have deteriorated while under Niemann’s ownership, said commission Chairman Earle Shettleworth.

“We felt there was serious degradation of the buildings,” said Shettleworth, who is the state historian and leads the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

Niemann, whose voicemail box was full and not accepting messages Tuesday, wrote in an opinion piece in the Kennebec Journal in October that he was disgusted at himself “for allowing the Kennebec Arsenal to fall prey to vandals and potential drug dealers.” He had recently hired a local caretaker to prevent further damage to the property and he said the recession prevented him from transforming the 22-acre site from a group of vacant buildings into housing, shops and restaurants.

The arsenal includes buildings that date back to 1828 that are designated as National Historic Landmarks. The city gave Niemann a tax break on the property in hopes of a revitalization.

But Augusta City Council member Cecil Munson, a member of the planning commission, said he and others have been disappointed.

“From a historical perspective, it’s a disaster,” he said. “People in the city are saying, ‘What’s happening down there?’ Everybody has given him a fair chance. We’re feeling that it’s never going to happen, so let’s move on.”

Henry said he’s heard there are others interested in the property and his office will discuss next steps with the Office of the Attorney General.

In other business, the commission:

* Approved the installation of two “economizers” on top of the Cross State Office Building. The two devices, which cost $300,000, will allow the state to stop using the air conditioning system in cooler weather by circulating outside air, which will save an estimated $40,000 in energy costs each year.

* Received an update from Henry about the planned purchase of two buildings on Sewall Street –127 and 108 — that will be renovated for use as state office space. The building at 127 Sewall St. will house an Office of Information Technology Data Center and the one at 108 Sewall will house the new Office of Policy and Management and the Maine Tax Review Board. Both new offices were approved earlier this year by the Legislature.

* Learned that the state expects to get two or three proposals from developers interested in renovating the Stone building, which housed the former Augusta Mental Health Institute. The state wants to find a developer to renovate the building and then lease the space back to the state for use as offices, Henry said. Bids are due July 6.

* Received a brief update from Henry about plans to turn the Gannett House at 184 State St. into a First Amendment museum. Henry said the state will continue to own and maintain the property, but has been authorized by the Legislature to lease it to the Gannett family, which owned several newspapers, television and radio stations throughout Maine. The family has agreed to pay for more than $800,000 in renovations to the building. A lease agreement is expected to be signed in August or September.

Susan Cover — 621-5643

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