LEWISTON, Maine — As work continues to lock up and block vacant downtown tenements and the City Council looks to demolish 12 more buildings this year, city officials say the effort is making a difference.
“I’m feeling very positive,” Jeff Baril, Lewiston’s liaison police and code enforcement officer, said. “We are looking at the 30 worst buildings, and once we knock those 30 down, it’s going to strengthen the housing market. We may get some more redevelopment and you are going to see us making a transition. We’re almost at the top of the hill, coming down the other side.”
Baril and the city’s code enforcement staff have been working to identify vacant, abandoned and dangerous buildings for more than a year. They recommend that buildings that can’t be repaired be demolished. It’s a long process that involves legal schedules and City Council approval, but the city was able to demolish 13 old downtown tenements last year.
Baril said the city plans to take down another 12 this year, but that’s not the preferred outcome.
“We have had buildings that we were ready to knock down that people came in and did pretty nice rehab jobs on,” Baril said. “There is some of that going on.”
A series of fires downtown April 29, May 3 and May 6 changed the effort. City code, fire and police inspectors visited every vacant and abandoned building on the city’s list after the fires to make sure they were locked up and to clean up and cart off trash left behind by former tenants and squatters.
Gil Arsenault, Lewiston’s director of planning and code enforcement, said most of the initial inspections are done. The city and some landlords and property managers have sealed up most of the problem buildings, covering doors and windows with heavy boards.
Public Works Director David Jones said downtown landlords have brought 56 tons of trash and debris to the Lewiston landfill as a part of a free pass program.
“Now we are continuing to monitor the buildings,” Arsenault said. “We’re still doing some more cleanup and we are going to keep bringing more buildings for the council to bring down.”
Arsenault said inspectors didn’t find any people living in the buildings who should not have been there after the fires.
“We did find evidence that people had been in the buildings but, to the best of our knowledge, none of the condemned buildings have people in them now,” Arsenault said.