GARDINER — Luck, strategy and persistence are starting to pay off in Gardiner’s bid to turn a blighted property into a state-of-the-art medical arts building.

Three votes by Gardiner city councilors last week were aimed at assembling the needed land parcels to develop the project and clearing them of the contaminants that are the legacy of 200 years of industrial activity on the banks of the Cobbosseecontee Stream.

Although there are more tasks to complete before the project can be considered a done deal, it’s closer to complete than it’s ever been.

“It’s just going to change the entire welcome to the city,” Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett said, “and it will give us a new, modern medical building close to downtown and a major thoroughfare.”

“It’s been a chicken and egg and chicken and egg kind of thing,” Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli said last week.

By the time a forced bankruptcy tied up three of the four T.W. Dick properties at the end of 2014, it was clear that the parcels could come under city control, one way or another.

“Before the properties even got to that point, we knew we would be in that situation,” Morelli said. The prior owner had tried selling the property, but he had given up.

The city had already acquired 1 Summer St., part of the old fabricating facility on the corner of Summer Street and Highland Avenue.

In a deal struck with the creditors, they agreed to let the bankruptcy drop and allow the city to take ownership of the properties in exchange for the chance to see some money after the city cleaned up the lots and sold them.

“When we walked into that meeting (with the creditors) with a phone book of all the contaminants, they knew no one was going to buy in, and they didn’t want to end up with it,” Morelli said.

Even before Developers Collaborative was identified as the developer for this project, company principals had looked at the site on Summer Street and concluded that to make a medical building of the type considered work, the project would need to include 2 Highland Ave., a boarded up two-story house next door, said Kevin Bunker, principal at Developers Collaborative.

The property, situated just to the north of 1 Summer St., was in foreclosure.

Introducing the proposals to the city councilors, Morelli said, “You can see the domino effect here.”

The first was approval for the city to buy 2 Highland Ave. from the Gardiner Board of Trade for a payment of $1 now and $29,999 when it’s sold for the project.

The board of trade, established to be a bridge between city government and the business community, had bought the building at a foreclosure sale.

The second was for the city to sell 1 and 31 Summer St. and 2 Highland Ave. to Developers Collaborative for $144,900 – $30,000 for 2 Highland Ave.; $85,000, which is the current assessed value of 1 Summer St.; and $29,900 for 31 Summer St.

The third was the formal acceptance of the $305,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Community and Economic Development.

In recapping the proposals, Morelli said considering the city’s direct costs in the project – $30,000 to the Board of Trade, $80,000 for the match for the brownfields grants and $20,000 in back taxes owed on the properties – the city will come out $14,900 ahead.

The piece that will push this project forward is a signed lease by MaineGeneral officials. That’s the piece needed for Developers Collaborative to secure financing and push ahead with its plans.


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