SACO — More than 50 people rallied in front of the former Saco Central Fire Station Sunday, in support of preserving the building.

The Thornton Avenue building was built in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration project, and was vacated in 2011 when the fire department moved to its new central station on North Street.

The city council is scheduled to decide tonight whether to consider a revised proposal to restore the building from Cynthia Taylor, of the nonprofit Housing Initiatives of New England, or to demolish the building.

Last month, the council voted 4-3 not to accept Taylor’s offer of $50,000 to buy the building.

Taylor proposed a mix of commercial and residential space, with a community room that could be used by tenants and be rented out. The building is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and Taylor said she would renovate the building to register standards and have it listed. Taylor said she would invest about $1 million into the building. Under her proposal, the building would be fully taxable.

On Friday, Taylor increased her offer to $100,000 to purchase the building, according to council commentary.

On Sunday, supporters of Taylor’s proposal, many of them wearing red shirts that read “SAVE OLD SACO FIRE STATION,” gathered together for a group photo. Mayor Mark Johnston, who was optimistic that the council would vote to approve Taylor’s proposal, said that after the council awards Taylor her offer, she will be given a photograph of the group as a gift.

Johnston thanked the group for its support, and said without their support, the building would be torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Johanna Hoffman, president of local economic development group Saco Spirit, said Sunday that Taylor’s proposal was custom designed to fit downtown Saco. She said Taylor, who has purchased another building on Thornton Avenue, has studied the neighborhood to determine the best use for the building.

“She’s done her homework,” said Hoffman.

The art deco building has a lot of value to the community, she said. The building is one of eight remaining WPA buildings in the state, and such buildings are increasingly being torn down across the country.

“I think everyone here will tell you it’s the best fit for the downtown,” said Saco resident Richard Petersen.

He said he thought it was “a wonderful idea” to have senior housing at the location, as it is next to a bank and near a pharmacy and a shopping center. The proposal would save a piece of the city’s history, and generate tax dollars instead of spending city money to create a parking lot, he said.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 325 or [email protected].

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