April 20, 2018
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Owners retain historic Belfast building that noted vegan chef forced into foreclosure

Nick McCrea | BDN
Nick McCrea | BDN
In this file photo from Dec. 17, 2017, a prominent downtown building was in the midst of foreclosure after celebrity chef Matthew Kenney's business stopped paying rent on the PlantLab culinary school. The building's owner is now free to bring in new tenants.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

A prominent downtown Belfast building forced into foreclosure by a celebrity vegan chef’s failure to keep up with rent will remain property of its current owner, who could have new tenants as soon as March.

Wendy Paradis, a Portland-based attorney representing Sandra Daniels, a retired school administrator from Texas who owns the building, was in Belfast on Monday morning to host an auction of the property. While a few curious locals attended, no potential buyers offered bids or put down the $25,000 deposit required to make a bid.

That means the deed stays with Daniels, who is now free to bring in new tenants.

“We really want to solidify Post Office Square, have this building working and people coming in and out,” said Jonathan Bancroft, Daniels’ partner, who attended the auction. “We love this building and want it to be working, not sitting empty.”

Bancroft said two new tenants could sign leases on the space as soon as this week. The first likely tenant would open an office on the ground floor as soon as March, and the other could move into the third-floor apartment around the same time. Daniels and Bancroft are looking for a third tenant to rent the second-floor apartment and fill out the historic structure.

Paradis said she was “bombarded” by messages from prospective bidders in the weeks leading up to the auction, but none of those individuals or groups followed through. Any successful bid would have had to cover the cost of the building and all debts owed to the owners. The bid likely would have had to surpass $1.3 million to be accepted.

The city assessed the building and land at $460,000, according to city records.

Paradis will report the results of the auction to Belfast District Court, likely within the next 30 days, bringing an end to the foreclosure process.

Matthew Kenney, a Searsport native who went on the build an international vegan cuisine empire of schools and restaurants, entered a deal to purchase the building at 121 Main St. from Paradis in 2013. Kenney agreed to pay $950,000 over the course of 12 years, largely through monthly installments. Interest payments would have pushed the final price closer to $1.2 million.

Kenney didn’t keep up his end of the deal, accruing $47,356 in overdue payments, plus additional debts to state, federal and local governments, according to the foreclosure judgment filed in Belfast District Court. At the time of the judgment, he still owed $825,058 under the contract, with interest accruing at about $430 per day.

Daniels started the foreclosure process, and Kenney agreed to give up all claim to the property.

Kenney has operated restaurants and culinary schools across the U.S. and internationally. Food and Wine Magazine named him one of America’s best new chefs, and he’s a two-time nominee for Rising Star Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation.

However, he’s been embroiled in legal and financial trouble at several of those establishments. Last summer, the landlord of his restaurant property in Miami sued for unpaid rent, according to the Miami Herald. There have been more lawsuits and liens at Kenney’s establishments stretching from New York and Oklahoma to Thailand and Los Angeles.

Daniels purchased the building in 2005 for $525,000. She launched a major renovation effort that lasted more than five years, which included the installation of an elevator. She and Bancroft hoped to settle in Belfast and live on the upper stories, but those plans changed and they started leasing it to tenants and ultimately decided to start the process of selling it to Kenney after he offered nearly $1 million that they would never see.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

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