The owner of the Clapp Memorial Building at 443 Congress St. plan to convert the upper floors of the seven-story building from offices to housing, creating about 30 one-bedroom and studio apartments in downtown Portland.

Northland Enterprises said the company plans to charge about $1,200 a month for the apartments, filling a niche between low-income subsidized housing and expensive condominium projects being built or planned on the peninsula.

While that’s a market demand that Portland officials say has been unmet, the location of the project is even more striking, said Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director.

“For young professionals, this kind of market-rate housing is important to support our growth and population, expand our workforce, and it’s in the right location – right across the street from companies that are growing,” Mitchell said.

The building is diagonally across from Monument Square. Mitchell said adding more residents directly downtown will help extend the vibrancy of the city after commuters depart around 5 p.m.

“It’s more patrons for our cultural facilities, restaurants and shops,” he said. “It’s a perfect fit in a perfect location.”

Josh Benthien, a partner at Northland Enterprises, said the company always felt the building, which it purchased in 2011, had potential for apartments. After a major tenant, Blue Tarp Financial, decided to move in search of more space, the company felt the time was right to pursue the conversion, he said.

The company hopes to get approval for its plan and begin work late this year, Benthien said, with an eye toward having tenants move in next summer.

The two commercial tenants on the first floor, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Planned Parenthood, both have long-term leases and will remain, Benthien said.

The presence of the Planned Parenthood office created some challenges for the new development, said Benthien. Aware that a previous tenant had moved because of the anti-abortion protests outside the building, Benthien had plans drawn up with a separate rear entrance for residents so they can avoid the protesters.


Benthien said he encountered Portland’s lack of mid-market housing when he moved here in 2007. Apartments he liked were either too expensive or set aside as affordable housing for low-income tenants, Benthien found.

“When I moved here, I’d go and tour apartments and the properties would have income restrictions that were barely below what I was making,” he said.

A market study Northland did confirmed Benthien’s experience, he said, with strong unmet demand for housing affordable to median-income earners.

Benthien said the building needs little exterior work, but inside, an elevator will be added, new windows installed, new air-conditioning units will be connected and the back entrance for tenants will be built. Northland will make use of tax credits available for the renovation of historic buildings, he said.

Benthien said some apartments will have views of Mount Washington and all units will have washers and dryers; heat will be included in the rent.

The building was constructed by descendants of Asa Clapp, a wealthy Portland shipbuilder, banker and businessman. It opened in 1924 and remained owned by the Clapp estate until Northland bought it in 2011.

Benthien said the city is a strong draw for young people.

“One of the things that’s missing is the mix of uses, so this will be good for the neighborhood,” he said.


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