Three years after a California-based landlord agreed to pay off a $35,000 tax lien against his downtown Bangor building at 73 Central St., David “Sandy” Boyd again owes the city more than $12,000 in unpaid property taxes as well as $48,000 to a local contractor. Meanwhile, Jeshua Serdynski, a Bangor-based contractor and the building’s property manager, has been trying to complete renovations and open his own business in the long-empty building.
73 Central St., the six-story building adjacent to the University of Maine Museum of Art that abuts the Kenduskeag Stream canals, is one of the only large, vacant buildings in downtown Bangor that has not yet seen any kind of large-scale development.
As of 2019, nearly every once-empty large building in downtown Bangor has seen major redevelopment, including the 53,000-square-foot Nichols Block on Exchange Street, the Circular Block building on Broad Street, the 28 Broad St. building and 29 Franklin St., which is nearing completion this year.
In contrast, the prominent building at 73 Central St. has, for the most part, lain empty for more than three decades.
“That building is kind of our white whale,” said Tanya Emery, Bangor’s economic and community development director, who has helped with many of those large development efforts downtown. “It’s the last piece of a giant puzzle that we’ve been trying to fill in for the past decade. I think it serves as a reminder that there’s no finish line in this kind of work. It’s a long-term process.”
Outside appearances can be deceiving, however. Despite an absentee landlord, ongoing tax troubles and structural problems with the building itself, for the past three years work has progressed inside 73 Central — albeit at a slow pace.
Serdynski has since 2017 been working nearly single-handedly to complete an array of improvements and renovations to the first floor of the building, toward an end goal of opening Ragnarok Coffee Society, a coffee shop and roastery. He eventually hopes to also renovate the upper floors of the building.
“I’ve got a lot invested in this building now,” said Serdynski, 32, a California native who has lived in the Bangor area since he graduated from high school. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist. And it has not been easy. But we are really, really close now, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”
Serdynski and his former business partner, Benjamin Hanson, had already been roasting coffee at home. They knew they wanted to open a coffee house and roastery in Bangor, and in 2015 had landed on the building at 73 Central St. as the ideal location.
“I’m definitely a coffee nerd,” Serdynski said. “I’ve been self-employed as a contractor for most of my life, but I’ve always wanted to own a brick-and-mortar business.”
They contacted 73 Central St.’s owner, David “Sandy” Boyd, a California resident, about leasing the space. Boyd, 62, has since the early 1980s owned a chain of coffee shops in the western U.S. called Espresso Roma, with shops in California, Oregon and Colorado. Boyd also owned a stake in a chain of salad bar restaurants called Fresh Choice, which filed for bankruptcy in July 2012. Boyd, who has owned 73 Central St. since 2003, did not return phone calls or emails requesting an interview for this story.
The pair were ready to sign a lease in the summer of 2016 when a lien on the building matured, causing the city to take possession of the property.
“That really threw a wrench into our plans,” Serdynski said. “It certainly changed things for us.”
Boyd owed the city of Bangor about $35,000 in back taxes, and the city also had significant concerns regarding the safety of the building, including a crumbling facade and no functioning sprinkler system.
The city was prepared to take possession of the building, but Boyd flew into Bangor on the day of the vote and, at a City Council meeting on June 28, 2016, agreed to pay his tax debt and undertake necessary renovations to bring the building up to code and return it to his possession.
“Taking possession of a property is always really messy and always the last possible resort, but there are buildings that are high profile and very frustrating for the community at large, when you want something positive to happen there,” said City Councilor Ben Sprague, who was one of eight councilors in 2016 to approve the deal with Boyd. “But, we have to treat everybody equally. We can’t seize one building faster than another building for that sort of reason.”
Boyd paid that $35,000, and in July 2016 hired House Revivers, a Bangor firm owned by Bob and Suzanne Kelly, to undertake the renovations. House Revivers began work on the building later in 2016, but as of April 2018, Boyd still owed the company almost $48,000, according to a lien the firm placed against Boyd’s property in June 2018. Calls to House Revivers by the Bangor Daily News were not returned.
Hanson, Serdynski’s former business partner, left the partnership sometime in 2016, and after House Revivers discontinued their work, Serdynski picked up the rest of the project on his own. Though he has had help from his wife, children and some family friends, and has hired contractors for work that requires a licensed professional, Serdynski has done the bulk of the remaining work himself — from installing a brand new floor to building Ragnarok’s coffee bar and stage.
Work has progressed far more slowly than he had hoped and only happens when he has the spare time — Serdynski has two children with his wife, Natenapa, still works full-time as a contractor and is attending the University of Maine part time.
Meanwhile, the city of Bangor placed another lien against Boyd’s property in June 2019, for unpaid property taxes amounting to $12,038, as well as around $339 in outstanding sewer and stormwater bills. That lien will mature in December 2020, at which point the property will technically become the city’s.
Serdynski admits that, from an outside perspective, Boyd’s ongoing tax issues with the building do not inspire a lot of confidence. He understands that it has taken far, far longer to open Ragnarok than he had originally hoped back when he announced his plans for the business in November 2015. But he says Boyd is still recovering from the bankruptcy of his former restaurant chain, Fresh Choice, and is trying to make good on all his debts. Serdynski says he wants to help him realize a long-deferred dream of redeveloping 73 Central St.
“What I want is what [Sandy] wanted. He wanted to put a coffee shop in here. That’s what I want, too,” Serdynski said. “I see a man who needs help getting his businesses in order. I want to help him. And now I have a stake in all of this, too.”
While there are other leasable spaces in Bangor that Serdynski has looked at for Ragnarok Coffee Society, everytime he considered abandoning his original location, he would come back around to the idea of 73 Central St. as the perfect place for his business. He says he is now looking at a late 2019 soft opening for the business.
“We have looked at other spaces, but at the end of the day, we have already put so much into this building,” said Serdynski, who now is the building’s property manager and who says he also owns equity in the property thanks to all the work he’s done. “If you start something, you should try to finish it. Even if it’s a lot of work.”