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A Bucksport ice cream shop owner plans to start turning a pre-Civil War seminary into an apartment building this spring after the town sold it to him for $1.
The Bucksport Town Council voted 5-2 on Thursday to sell Wilson Hall to Larry Wahl, owner of Wahl’s Dairy Port. In addition to the $1 transaction, the deal includes an interest-free, $65,000 loan forgivable in five years if Wahl succeeds in repurposing the building. Wahl will use the loan to help defray renovation costs, council Chairman Peter Stewart said Monday.
Named to the National Register of Historic Places and the state’s endangered historic properties list, Wilson Hall was close to demolition for at least the third time in its history when Wahl stepped forward last month with a plan to save the building. Councilors at a meeting in December expressed sympathy for the building’s plight but also impatience. The town acquired it 11 years ago through a tax foreclosure.
A former Methodist seminary building on Franklin Street, Wilson Hall has fallen into disrepair despite efforts to repurpose it over the past 20 years. Besides the building’s leaky roof, many of its supports are rotting and the latest effort to convert it into an elder care facility failed for a lack of financing.
Stewart and Councilor Daniel Ormsby voted against the deal. Ormsby said he felt the council was moving too quickly with Wahl’s proposal. Stewart said he would have preferred to see the town seek requests for proposals on the building rather than just take Wahl’s offer.
“I hope he succeeds with it,” Stewart said. “I thought that our process was flawed. I thought we moved too quick with an unsolicited bid.”
As of Monday, the 73-year-old Wahl had telephoned Central Maine Power Co. to run electricity to the building. His deal requires him first to repair or replace the roof, belltower and a damaged corner of the building’s foundation, as well as install new windows, he said.
“I am excited to get something done with that building and anxious to get going. I hope to get started in March,” Wahl said. “I want to shore up the inside first. Some of the floors will have to be replaced. I was leaning toward saving them, but I sort of doubt it. I think they will have to be replaced.”
The building might end up housing as many as four two-bedroom apartments, but Wahl won’t know for sure until the project progresses. The first floor, he said, could host a public meeting or display space and potentially office space. He said he may decorate it to look like it did in the 1850s.
“I am just a fan of these old buildings,” Wahl said. “Like everybody says, when they are gone, they are gone forever. I can’t bear to see them go.”