HAMPDEN, Maine — A proposal by Hampden hotelier Danny Lafayette to develop all 22 acres of the old Hampden Academy property without tearing down the main buildings took a big step forward Wednesday night.
Lafayette, who has built a chain of 27 hotels in Maine and outside the state along with his wife, Carla, has made a preliminary offer to cover most of the cleanup and other applicable costs associated with developing the land into possible office building complexes, health or retail malls, restaurants and-or hotel businesses, housing units or retirement communities.
“We decided we need to be more proactive than reactive and establish protocol to market it [the property] and avoid continuing to pay for maintenance and utilities next winter,” said Dean Bennett, Hampden’s community and economic development director. “We initiated a marketing program and selected a handful of longtime Hampden residents to consult about it.”
Lafayette was the first person Bennett called.
“He talked to me for 90 minutes, and had a proposal to move this to a meeting and talk about development opportunities with this property,” Bennett said.
One Hampden Town Council planning and economic development committee executive session — and a meeting between legal representatives of Lafayette and the town — later, Hampden town officials and four town councilors met with Lafayette’s attorney and finance manager Wednesday night.
“We’re proposing a nine-month [real estate] option agreement during which both sides will be required to take steps on the redevelopment project for the property,” said Erik Stumpfel, Lafayette’s attorney. “The idea is to give Lafayette time to price out the project.”
Those present for Wednesday’s planning and development committee meeting were councilors Thomas Brann, Janet Hughes, Jean Lawlis and Bill Shakespeare; Bennett; Stumpfel; town attorney Thomas Russell; town planner Robert Osborne; and Jedd Steinglass, senior project manager for Credere Associates LLC — the firm that handled the environmental survey and site evaluation of the old academy property for the council.
The town acquired the property from SAD 22 in a land swap deal last November. Since then, it has attracted the attention of several entities interested in using portions of the complex.
“We officially acquired it in December and Beal College, Eastern Maine Community College, Bangor Police Department, the Hampden Recreation Department, and Calvary Apostolic Church have all made inquiries about using it,” Bennett said.
Hampden’s rec department is using the Skehan Center, the former high school gym, as its headquarters for the last three months, and Calvary Apostolic has remodeled — at its cost — the academy’s library and four nearby classrooms for worship services and office/activity space.
The Lafayettes, who have been quite active in supporting charities over the years with a $2 million donation to the Champion for the Cure campaign for a new cancer center that is now known as the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer, would like to preserve the core of the old academy, as it holds special meaning for them. Their children all graduated from the school.
Stumpfel presented the councilors with a proposal document before Wednesday night’s executive session began.
“Right now we don’t know what environmental remediation of that site will cost,” Stumpfel said. “We would like time to see what those costs will be and proceed accordingly.
“We also want to take steps to insulate Mr. Lafayette from any potential state liability, and provide some liability protection from anyone attempting to redevelop the property, just to be on the safe side, even though it’s highly unlikely anything like that will occur.”
Brann said they would likely be negotiating real estate option terms and conditions during executive session.
“It’s not that we don’t have other interested parties, but we have a very unique and good opportunity proposal in front of us now,” said Hughes, who wanted to emphasize there are still other potential options available.
One of those options does not appear to include keeping the entire facility heated and open for a second winter.
“We’re well over $150,000 in heating and other expenses on that property already,” said Brann. “We have tentatively agreed to mothball the old academy if no other option has been agreed upon by next winter.”