Westbrook City Councilor Brendan Rielly accepts a key to the city and a standing ovation at his final City Council meeting Aug. 5. Chance Viles./American Journal

WESTBROOK— Art professor Michael Shaughnessy and members of Discover Downtown Westbrook presented a plan at Tuesday’s council meeting to turn an old fire station into an artist space and a visitor’s center.

The Tuesday meeting drew a full house, as residents also wanted to say goodbye to Councilor Brendan Rielly, a 17-year veteran of the board who officially stepped down that night.

After a second public hearing, the City Council also gave final approval to amend the zoning map to allow more uses for the site that once housed Holly’s Gas Station.

Shaughnessy, an art professor with the University of Southern Maine, told the board he is looking is to create an art gallery and studio that would also supply a space for Discover Downtown Westbrook operations.

A bus drops off passengers in front of the old fire station at 11 Mechanic Street on Aug. 7. Chance Viles/American Journal

It’s the first major proposal for the city-owned property at 11 Mechanic St. property to come before the council since the city took over the building for storage three years ago.

“The condition of the building is quite poor … It would be about a quarter-million to bring it back up to par,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said at the meeting.

The location sits on a major bus route corridor, with a bus stop outside the building, Shaughnessy said at a Streets & Facilities meeting held right before the regular City Council meeting.

The group asked the council to give them a year to fundraise and research grants to make the building happen.

“The thing about art is, it kind of fits to any space, and something like this is perfect,” Shaughnessy said. “I know that there would be interest from the university; there is a lot of potential with our own art programs and so much we can do with the site.”

Built in the late ’70s, the building was a private on-call fire station until about six years ago, then it housed a repair shop for public safety vehicles before it closed to private ownership three years ago. The building has since been used as a cold storage location for the city’s Public Safety Department.

“It would be a great place for a visitor center, being on that route of travel, and the art is another drawing factor,” Abigail Coiffi, Discover Downtown Westbrook executive director, said. “Westbrook wouldn’t have to pay to keep the property up or for electricity or anything anymore either, so it helps us both.”

At-large Councilor Mike Foley recommended speaking with Greater Portland Metro, as one of its buses stops outside the building. Metro could have a vested interest if the location turns into a transportation hub where Metro could expand.

“It would be worth talking with them about potential funding too,” Foley said.

While no action was taken at the council meeting, the subject will be discussed further when councilors next meet on Aug. 19.

The former Holly’s Gas Station at 380 Main St. has been vacant since 2018 and is owned by H.A Mapes, a fuel company based in Springvale. CEO Jonathan Mapes looked to change the zoning to city center from a residential growth district, which is consistent with zoning in the surrounding area. The new zoning allows a greater variety of business uses at the site, which would make it easier to sell. City center districts allow for a gas station but also allows for small offices or other small businesses. Mapes had planned to renovate the property, but the plan has since been abandoned due to the high cost. The rezoning looks to make the parcel easier to sell to new developers and saw no debate or protest at previous public hearings.

This City Council meeting was the final one for Rielly, who announced he would be stepping down this month at the July 15 City Council meeting. He said he’s resigning a few months before his term ends in November to allow his replacement to “get their feet wet” before the candidate takes up a potential full-term.

Rielly’s longtime friends, coworkers and peers came to the meeting to say a few kind words, filling up the room with Westbrook officials both past and present.

“I thank you so much for your service. It’s been a pleasure working with you,” former City Councilor  John O’Hara said. O’Hara spent the majority of his tenure with Rielly, and served the longest with him on the council.

Westbrook City Councilor Brendan Rielly accepts a key to the city and a standing ovation at his final City Council meeting Aug. 5. Chance Viles./American Journal

“I’ve never met a fairer man in my life. You epitomize the scales of justice,” O’Hara added.

The final public comment period of the meeting proved to be emotional. Former officials and peers of Rielly’s got up one after another to comment on Rielly’s character, as well as his dedication to Westbrook.

“I have never seen (Rielly) mad, or bothered by anything. We will miss you,” Mayor Mike Sanphy said.

“Over the years I’ve watched Brendan. … I took pleasure and guidance observing how he was as a councilor. … Thank you for guiding me, and the number of positive changes the city has gone through would not have been possible without you,” Ward 3 City Councilor Anna Turcotte said.

Rielly, touched by the comments and holding back tears, had a few words of his own before his departure.

“I just have to say that this, the City Council only works if good people are involved, “Rielly said. “Please get involved and give back.”

Ward 1 Councilor Rielly hits the gavel one last time to close the public portion of the meeting. Councilor Anna Turcotte, acting as president in Gary Rairdon’s absence, turned over the gavel to Rielly to close out the meeting. Chance Viles/American Journal