BANGOR, Maine — The former owner of a historic downtown building flew to Bangor Monday and told the City Council he wanted to make good on his $35,000 tax debt and begin renovating the vacant six-story structure.
David S. Boyd of California hoped to convince the city not to take possession of the building at 73 Central St., but councilors weren’t swayed.
In an 8-0 vote, they directed the city manager to take possession of what is known as the Central Building. Boyd hadn’t paid taxes on the property since late 2014. Some of the six liens against the building, totaling $35,000, had matured, passing ownership to the city.
Prior to the vote, Boyd stepped to the podium to ask councilors to postpone their decision by 30-45 days, allowing him time to start renovations on the property — improving the facade and bringing in a contractor to resolve code issues with the sprinkler system. If the city took possession of the building, the locks would be changed, preventing him from taking those steps, he said.
“I’ll put my neck out,” Boyd said. “No promises on your end.”
Councilors weren’t convinced.
“I don’t have a ton of sympathy for $35,000 in unpaid taxes,” said City Councilor Ben Sprague. He argued that Bangor’s taxpayers were effectively subsidizing the owner of a long-vacant structure that has fallen into disrepair after decades of underuse.
However, Sprague and City Councilor Joe Baldacci said Boyd’s offer to pay off his debts and ramp up renovation efforts was made in “good faith,” and leaves the door open to talking to him about future plans for the property.
“I made a mistake and I’m sorry,” Boyd told the council. “The rules are different out where I come from.”
Boyd said he has about $400,000 invested in the building, but about $310,000 of that was the purchase price and the bulk of the remainder has been tax payments.
In past years, Boyd stayed just ahead of the lien maturation process by neglecting to pay taxes for several years until the deadline loomed, according to Debbie Cyr, the city’s finance director. This time, he missed the maturation deadline despite repeated notifications from the city. Boyd claimed Monday night that he didn’t receive some of those notices.
After securing the building, Bangor officials plan to assess its condition and determine what needs to be done to get it up to code. After that, the city will lay out redevelopment options for the city council.
The city could issue a request for proposals to redevelop the entire 30,000-square-foot property. Boyd could be among those to submit a plan, or the city could enter a separate agreement with him — one in which he likely would pay off his debt and submit a detailed plan for redevelopment. Boyd said he would be interested in working with the city on a plan.
“For either option, we would suggest that the development agreement include improvements, investment amounts and timelines,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said Tuesday.
Boyd said he has drawn up a lease with Jeshua Serdynski, who is part of a team trying to start Ragnarok Coffee Society in 73 Central’s first-floor storefront. The artisanal coffee shop had a failed Kickstarter campaign last year, but continues its effort to open, and has $100,000 in equipment with which to start the business.
Boyd estimated it would cost $250,000 to get the first floor occupied again. There are mold issues that need to be resolved and water damage that needs to be repaired, as well as code issues with the sprinkler system that need to be sorted out. He said he has no immediate plans to renovate the upper floors, as that would take millions in investment, and he said he doubts whether the city could find anyone to finance a full overhaul of the building in the near future. The renovation of the whole building would need to be phased, he argued.
However, the city has previously found investors with deep pockets who launched multimillion-dollar renovation efforts at historic properties in recent years, including long-vacant buildings at 25 Broad St. and 28 Broad St. near West Market Square.
The last time 73 Central saw regular use was in 2007, when the bottom two floors briefly housed the Ofelia’s Arte Fino Gallery, a combination thrift shop, art gallery and performance venue.
Ofelia’s closed a few months after opening when the city condemned the property because multiple code violations — most seriously the certification of the sprinkler system and problems with the alarm system — hadn’t been addressed.
In 2011, the Bangor Historical Society temporarily moved into 73 Central to set up an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of Bangor’s Great Fire of 1911, which devastated much of the downtown. That was the last time the building was in use. On occasion, the first floor also has opened up to serve as political campaign offices.
Originally, it was home to five street-level shops, second-floor offices and a large hall that at the time was the largest assembly space in the city aside from the original Bangor auditorium, which operated from 1897 until it was replaced in 1955, according to author Deborah Thompson, who wrote a history of Bangor architecture.
The Central Building was redeveloped in the 1980s, which is when workers built an addition on top of the building with plans to develop a fitness center. Nothing ever came of that development effort.
Boyd owes about $33,600 in unpaid real estate taxes, just under $1,000 in downtown development taxes and a couple years’ worth of unpaid sewer charges tacking on another $300.
Councilor Gibran Graham said Boyd was asking the council to take a “leap of faith.”
“I don’t have a lot of faith left at this point,” Graham said. “The time to do this was at least five years ago.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.