ROCKLAND, Maine — A prominent downtown building that was slated for demolition has been spared from the wrecking ball after Maine Sport Outfitters announced Monday that it is purchasing the building and opening a new retail location there.
The 279 Main St. building has been the center of debate over the last several months, after the property owner filed an application with the city to tear down a majority of the building and construct a parking lot. Since the building is located at a prominent intersection, some feared it would have a negative impact on the makeup of the downtown.
Maine Sport Outfitters, which operates sporting good stores in Rockport and Camden, was exploring the idea of opening a third location in Rockland for some time. The 279 Main St. building offered the perfect opportunity, general manager and chief executive officer Troy Curtis said
“With expanding to Rockland, obviously it was a matter of opportunity. That building is just a terrific location. It’s the gateway to downtown Rockland. It’s connected to both the festival area and the other large attractions that the city offers,” Curtis said.
The purchase of the 15,000-square foot building from current owner Crystal Darling will be completed Tuesday, Curtis said.
Darling was scheduled to go before the Rockland Planning Board Tuesday night for approval of her demolition plans after the Rockland City Council agreed last month that the city cannot stop her from tearing down her own property.
However, with the sale of the building to Maine Sport Outfitters, Darling has withdrawn her demolition application and has been taken off of the planning board’s agenda for Tuesday.
Darling’s plans to demolish a large portion of the building, which was a Sears department store for nearly 40 years, have sparked debate over whether the property had historic significance.
The Sears building — built in 1952 — was the first in New England to be built using tilt-up construction, which entails lifting prefabricated concrete walls into place with cranes, according to Rockland Historical Society Curator Ann Morris. Because of this unique method of construction, Morris has included the property on a draft list of historically significant downtown buildings that she said should require extra review if ever slated for demolition.
After Sears closed the location, Darling and her late partner purchased the property in the mid-1990s and the building underwent a major renovation. It has since been home to the Park Street Grille, the Midcoast Music Academy, Frank’s Family Hair Care and Breakwater Design and Build Inc.
Maine Sport Outfitters is excited to preserve the building and bring it back to its retail roots, Curtis said
“It’s a unique building in a great location, the bones of the building are solid and we’re really excited to be in that spot. It has a great history of being a retail location,” Curtis said.
The new Maine Sport location will occupy approximately 12,000-square feet of the 279 Main Street building, leaving 3,000-square feet for several other tenants. The new store will occupy the portion of the building that is currently home to Park Street Grille. The restaurant will be moving to the Maine Lighthouse Museum building next door.
Each of Maine Sport Outfitters existing stores offer slightly different inventory to customers, Curtis said. The flagship Rockport location focuses largely on hard sporting goods, such as paddlecraft and bikes. While the Camden location offers mostly clothes and footwear.
The plan for the Rockland location is to be a combination of both, Curtis said. The store will offer a selection of paddlecraft and camping gear as well as outdoor clothing and footwear. The location will also offer excursions during the summer months, like kayak tours in Rockland Harbor.
Maine Sport feels the mission of the Rockland location will serve both tourists and locals alike.
“Visitation rates to the city during the summer months, combined with the current business mix in the community solidified our decision to explore this possibility,” Curtis said.
Renovation work will begin this month and Maine Sport Outfitters hopes to open the Rockland location by July 1.
Curtis declined to disclose the purchase price of the property.