Buyer to create bakery at former jail

Posted Jan. 23, 2009, at 10:01 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The century-old Somerset County Jail soon will have a new owner who hopes to open a restaurant and bakery on the site that used to house prisoners.

The Somerset County commissioners have approved selling the jail for $65,000 — less than a third of the original asking price — to Skowhegan artist Amber Lambke. The deal is scheduled to close on March 30.

The jail, which was built in 1897 in downtown Skowhegan, shut down last fall when a new 200-bed county jail opened in Madison.

Lambke said she and her business partner will turn the 14,000-square-foot Victorian-style jailhouse into a multiuse facility with a grist mill, bakery, restaurant and small retail store to sell bread and local fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat and dairy products.

“I’m extremely excited for the commissioners to have faith in my project and that they are giving me the opportunity to situate my project in the downtown,” Lambke said after the commissioners’ 2-1 vote. Last summer, she told the Somerset Economic Development Corp. that she envisions a dozen new jobs at the proposed mill, store and office, with additional artists, farmers and growers selling their wares six days a week.

Commissioners originally agreed that the property wouldn’t be sold for less than $100,000, commission Chairman Robert Dunphy said. But the commission’s majority felt Lambke’s plan was “the highest and best use” for the property, and that the sale would put the building on the tax rolls, he said.

Commissioner Lynda Quinn, who voted against the sale, said the western Maine county could have used the former jail to store county records. Quinn said she did not want to sell the property “for peanuts” and then have to build a repository for county records for much more than the sale price.

“I wasn’t so much opposed to selling it to Amber Lambke, as I was opposed to selling it, period,” said Quinn. “I told Amber … the romance of what you’ve planned here is fabulous — I will eat there and I will buy your bread, but right from day one, I have said no to selling that jail.”

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