City prepares to demolish former Old Town Canoe complex

The Old Town Canoe Co. factory in the early 1900s.
Photo Courtesy of Benson Gray
The Old Town Canoe Co. factory in the early 1900s.
Posted Feb. 26, 2013, at 9:15 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 27, 2013, at 12:19 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — Barring any unforeseen snags, the massive complex of red brick and wooden buildings that once housed the Old Town Canoe Co. will be torn down in late summer, paving the way for a new era of professional, business and high-tech development, according to city officials.

Old Town Canoe occupied the 5.5-acre downtown site from 1902 until it moved to a new facility on Gilman Falls Avenue in 2009. The red multistory, 260,000-square-foot building the world-famous canoe and kayak manufacturer once occupied has remained vacant since despite the city’s efforts to market it.

City Manager Bill Mayo said last fall that the cost of rehabilitating the complex was prohibitive because, although the buildings generally are in good structural condition, the roofs, doors, windows, insulation and other components — including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, sprinkler and electrical systems — would have to be replaced and brought up to code, according to a November 2011 report by Carpenter Associates Consulting Engineers of Old Town.

In a Jan. 15 report to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, EPA brownfield coordinator Diane Kelley noted that the Carpenter study estimated the cost of fully renovating the site at $20 million to $30 million.

In an interview late last week, David Wight, Old Town’s economic development director, said that if all goes to plan, demolition of the Old Town Canoe complex will begin by September. Before the aging complex of brick and wooden buildings can start coming down to make way for new development, the city must clear two more major hurdles, namely recordation and remediation.

Last spring, the city was awarded a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will help pay for the cleanup of the asbestos-ridden complex.

While the complex is not on the National Register of Historic Places, its age and local significance made it eligible for a spot on the list. To that end, before they are torn down, the aging red brick and wooden buildings must undergo a “recordation,” or documentation process, Mayo said late last week.

That process will involve making an extensive photographic record of the waterworks, he said. Copies of the photographs will be sent to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

The other aspect that must occur is the environmental remediation, or cleanup, phase, which Mayo estimated will take six to eight weeks over the summer.

Wight said it is still too soon to say how much the actual demolition will cost.

“We really won’t know for sure until we go out to bid,” he said. “We’d like to start as soon as possible.”

Mayo said that one estimate the city has received for the demolition phase pegged the cost at $550,000 — $500,000 of which could be recouped by salvaging wood and steel from the site.

If the estimate holds up, the city’s cost would be about $50,000, he said.

The James W. Sewall Co. has expressed interest in using most of the site for a new headquarters building, according to city officials. Wight said the city hopes to find similar professional operations for the rest of the site.

“That would really help bolster our downtown,” Wight said in an interview late last week.

CORRECTION:

A photo previously attached to this story showed the new Old Town Canoe facility, not the old facility, which will be torn down.

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