GARDINER — While the owner of a downtown building gutted by a fire last month says he will give the damaged building to the city if the community wants to see the historic structure restored, city officials say they’re not eager to take on the risk without more information.

Community members and city officials have said they don’t want to see the Water Street buildings damaged by the fire torn down, but one of the two building owners has applied for approval to demolish his building.

Wayne Chamberland, who owns the building through his company JustnJake Property Management LLC, said demolishing the building will cost him at least $20,000 to $25,000 because his insurance company will cover only part of the estimated $60,000 cost.

He said he doesn’t plan to rebuild because it wouldn’t make economic sense with what his insurance would provide and what would be needed to meet new building codes. Rebuilding the structure probably would cost $800,000 to $1 million, Chamberland said. If the city wants to save the historic facade, he’ll sign it over, he said.

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” he said. “I don’t want to just walk away from it.”

Chamberland lives in Terryville, Connecticut, but he used to live in Pittston, where he owned a steel building company, Twin Fork Enterprises.

City officials and others say there’s a lot to consider when deciding what to do with the structures.


Bob Andrews, owner of Andy’s Barbershop, several storefronts down from the site of the July 16 fire, has been cutting hair downtown for more than 50 years and has owned his shop’s building for almost as long. He’s seen multiple floods, including the flood in 1987, when water rose to the counter of his Water Street barbershop; and the 1985 fire that destroyed a block of buildings on the Bridge Street end of downtown. The empty space created by that fire is now called McKay Park.

“If they do have to tear them down, it would be too bad, because it would make another vacant spot in the middle of downtown,” Andrews said. “I don’t think we need another park.”

But Andrews, who also owns a house on Oak Street in Gardiner, said he wouldn’t want to see taxpayers pay for the buildings damaged by the July 16 fire.

There’s no plan to do that currently, but Chamberland has offered to give the city the property with a quitclaim deed. The City Council discussed the proposal in executive session at its meeting Wednesday but didn’t make a decision. City Manager Scott Morelli said a decision is “not even been close to being made.” Before councilors decide whether to accept the property, they’ll hold some type of public hearing to solicit feedback from the community, Morelli said.

Meanwhile, Gardiner Main Street is in the process of hiring engineering and architecture consultants, with $1,000 from the funds donated for fire relief, to assess how much it would cost to save the buildings and help the city make a more informed decision, said Patrick Wright, executive director of the downtown revitalization organization.

Wright, who is also the city’s economic and community development coordinator, said he would never recommend the city put itself in a risky situation and would be surprised if the city acted as a developer for the buildings.

Instead, Wright said the city potentially could be an intermediary to find someone who might be interested in redeveloping the properties.


The city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which reviewed the demolition request from Chamberland, the owner of 235 Water St., at its meeting last week, requested additional information about the demolition’s effect on the adjoining buildings. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 15.

The owner of the other building damaged by the fire is Aspire Corp., according to Gardiner tax records. Paul McGuire, speaking on the company’s behalf, told the Kennebec Journal last week that he still was waiting for information from the insurance company. He said he isn’t the owner or manager of Aspire Corp., but he declined to say how he’s involved in it.

McGuire didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.

Gardiner Mayor Thomas Harnett said he also would prefer to see the buildings rebuilt, but, like Wright, he’s not sold on the city being the one to do it.

“I don’t think the city is good in the real estate business. I don’t think that’s what we do,” Harnett said. “I am not one that would be jumping to own more property.”

Ideally, he said he would like to see the damaged buildings in the downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, restored to their previous conditions. Harnett said although some people might be happy to see another open space downtown, he’s doesn’t want that to happen.

He anticipates that the process of deciding what to do with the property will be a long one.

“The council wants to make a decision based on the greatest number of facts possible, and we’re not there,” Harnett said. “We’re not there yet.”

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