By Dawn Gagnon
HAMPDEN — Despite some lingering concerns among some members, the Town Council on Aug. 5 approved a series of votes paving the way for a redevelopment deal for the former Hampden Academy complex by Historic Hampden Academy LLC, a legal entity formed for that purpose by local hoteliers and philanthropists Danny and Carla LaFayette.
Negotiations between the town and the LaFayettes have been going on since early spring. The outcome of the Aug. 5 votes was uncertain until they actually took place because councilors were split on the issue going into the meeting.
Approved were an ordinance enabling the town to convey the 22-acre former High School campus to Historic Hampden Academy, a related zone change and changes to the town’s sign ordinance, a purchase and sale agreement and a lease allowing the town to continue using the gym for recreational programming for $1 a year plus a portion of operation costs for at least five years, with options to renew.
All but one of the votes was unanimous.
Chief among the concerns for some of the councilors, including Jean Lawlis, was that the town did not go through a formal request-for-proposals process.
Mayor Janet Hughes thought that the town should nail down provisions for parking and grounds maintenance before signing the purchase and sale agreement, pointing out that she would rather be “proactive than reactive.”
Hughes said she wished the town could have held onto the property and turned it into a village square that would have included some private development but added that that would have required the town to spend money on demolition, cleanup and continued maintenance, including heating.
After having sat quietly through most of Monday night’s meeting — as well as the council’s discussion on July 15 — Danny LaFayette accepted Hughes’ invitation to speak publicly about the company’s intentions for the first time.
Though he said he hasn’t decided exactly what he will do with the property, LaFayette did say he is contemplating relocating part of the family company’s headquarters there.
He also assured town officials and residents that he won’t bring undesirable development — including a big-box store or a strip club — to the property.
“If it’s not a good deal for Hampden, we don’t want to do it,” he said.
Residents Lisa Kelley, Walter Cupples and Todd Hardy were among those who spoke in support of the deal with the LaFayettes because they already have demonstrated their ability to develop and commitment to the community.
While not opposed to the notion of the LaFayettes as developers, resident Ana Santo also argued that the town should have gone through the request-for-proposals process because that would have been the more democratic thing to do.
Key details of the deal, which can be seen in their entirety on the town’s website, include:
• The developer would pay $60,000 for the property, address the Skeehan Center’s leaky roof and replace the boiler.
• The town would be able to continue leasing the Skeehan Center gym at a cost of $1 a year, plus operating costs, for an initial term of five years, with automatic renewal options. The developer would reserve the use of the band room, some locker room space and the ability to use the facility for up to six fundraising and other events of up to three days in duration a year upon 180 days notice.
• The town would have 21 dedicated parking spaces, but shared access to more than 200 others available on the site.
The Lafayettes have been major supporters of local charities over the years — including a $2 million donation to the Champion for the Cure campaign for a new cancer center now known as the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer. Town officials say the couple wants to preserve the core of the old academy as it holds special meaning for them. Their children all graduated from the school.
The town acquired the original Hampden Academy property from SAD 22 in a land swap last November.
Before talks with the Lafayettes began this spring, the town had entertained inquiries from a variety of other interested parties including Beal College, Eastern Maine Community College and the Bangor Police Department, according to previous Bangor Daily News stories. All of those potential deals fell through.