PORTLAND – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has purchased a small complex of retail stores on Congress Street as an investment property.

The small shopping plaza at 290 Congress St., which is anchored by a Rite Aid Pharmacy, was purchased in December for $2.75 million, according to a spokesman for the diocese.

The plaza also includes a grocery store, a laundromat and a retail space that is currently vacant.

Dave Guthro, a spokesman for the diocese, said the purchase represents the first time that the diocese has acquired a property in Maine with the intention of using it for profit.

Guthro said none of the current tenants’ leases are due to expire in the near future, and the diocese will be actively seeking a tenant for the vacant space.

There are no changes planned for the plaza and no plans to convert its parking lot for use by the church, he said.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the Cathedral School are located across the street. The plaza is part of the India Street neighborhood.

“The plaza’s location between the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Congress Street and St. Peter Parish on Federal Street is attractive,” Guthro wrote, in an email. “However, it is important to note that there are no grand plans to redesign or change the property itself. Again, it is just an investment property for the Diocese.”

“The location made sense and it’s an opportunity to have another way to grow our revenues at this time,” Guthro added.

Because the diocese is a religious institution it is exempt from having to pay property taxes.

According to the city of Portland’s real estate tax exempt rolls, the diocese owns about 20 properties in the city that are tax-exempt. Guthro said unlike those properties, which are used for religious purposes, the diocese will continue to pay taxes on the Congress Street shopping plaza.

According to the city tax assessor’s website, the roughly 18,000 square feet of commercial space is valued at $1.23 million, and generates about $23,000 a year in property taxes for the city. It was last sold in 2002 for $1.65 million.

The plaza’s most recent owner was Owen B. Pickus, a local physician. Pickus said he received higher offers from other parties but the church bid was more attractive because it was not dependent on financing.

The Family Practice Center, which is operated by Maine Medical Center, is next to the shopping plaza. It could have used the space for parking but Pickus said, “Officially, there was never an offer from the hospital. I was surprised about that myself.”

— Staff Writers Dennis Hoey and Randy Billings contributed to this story

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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