The Portland developer behind The Press Hotel and a massive proposed redevelopment on the Portland waterfront is testing the waters in Biddeford with the purchase of a historic downtown building.

Jim Brady closed on the former post office building at 27 Washington St. last month after being drawn to the Biddeford-Saco area by recent mill redevelopment and the removal of a trash incinerator from downtown Biddeford. He said he has been keeping his eye on the real estate market in the cities for a while and is exploring other projects in the area, including a boutique hotel.

“As Portland has continued to be a very strong and vibrant real estate market and the cost of housing has pushed people out of Portland, it makes places like Saco and Biddeford much more attractive,” he said. “I’m excited about the future there and want to be participating in that future.”

In the past five years, downtown Biddeford, which includes the mill district, has been undergoing a revitalization that includes new businesses, hundreds of new housing units and investments in the RiverWalk and public infrastructure. City officials and developers say much of that growth occurred because the Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator was removed from downtown five years ago, prompting several mill owners to invest in new housing projects in nearby mill buildings.

Since 2008, growth in the Biddeford mill district has included $54.4 million in private investment, 400 new jobs and 250 new residential units, according to Biddeford officials. Another $77.5 million in anticipated investment has been announced, including 230 new residential units that have been planned or approved.

In June, Dan Botwinik, founder of Cougar Capital Management Inc. of Boston, bought a former department store building at 145 Main St. for $850,000. The Smith Building, constructed in 1895, includes 18 residential units, a first-floor retail space and has an assessed value of $575,000. Brady closed on the former post office several weeks ago for an undisclosed purchase price. The building is assessed at $300,000.

The historic former post office building in downtown Biddeford has been sold to Jim Brady, one of the developers working on a big waterfront project in Portland. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“I think it says a lot about the Biddeford market that Portland developers are starting to look in this area,” Mayor Alan Casavant said. “People who want to invest money are looking to Biddeford because it’s hot here. We have a great availability of space here at lower rates with a very eager market.”

Brady is a partner at CPB2, the company that has proposed an ambitious $250 million project to redevelop the former Portland Co. complex that will include upscale housing, shops, restaurants, hotel rooms and a marina. He was also the driving force behind The Press Hotel, which opened in 2015 in the former Portland Press Herald headquarters.

As the development market stays hot in Portland, the Biddeford-Saco area becomes even more attractive because it is close to Boston, has rail service from downtown and there is new life in the mills, Brady said.

The building he bought on Washington Street in Biddeford was built in 1914 by the General Services Administration for $90,000 to serve as a post office. It was later used as a courthouse and was most recently a call center. The building has been vacant for several years with a leaking roof, but can be restored “to its glory,” Brady said.

“I really cherish these old buildings that can be brought back to life,” he said.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the building has an ornate facade that is unique from the brick textile mills in the area, Brady said. With tall ceilings and windows, he said, the building could be used for offices, retail space or a restaurant.

Daniel Stevenson, the city’s economic development director, said he is pleased Brady is investing in Biddeford and in a project that could bring additional jobs to the city.

“I love his vision and the work he’s done in Portland,” Stevenson said. “Jim wants to bring the former post office building back to its beauty. That’s a great vision for that building.”

The first phase of work on the Washington Street building is expected to begin in the next 60 days with the replacement of the roof, followed by a complete gutting of the inside. Brady anticipates using state and federal historic tax credits to help with the cost to restore the building.

Brady said he is already considering other projects in the area. He has been discussing a boutique hotel project on Saco Island, but has not yet committed to a deal with the developer who has proposed the $40 million development.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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