This former MBNA office building in Belfast is part of the property that's under contract to Penobscot Community Health Care. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Penobscot Community Health Care, the largest federally qualified health center in Maine, is under contract to purchase the old Bank of America complex in Belfast.

If the deal is finalized, it will mean that Seaport Community Health Center would move from the 11,800 square foot space it leases nearby to one of the five buildings on the 142-acre campus. The shift will allow the health center, which has 8,000 patients, to more than double its size, according to Kate Carlisle, the director of mission engagement at Penobscot Community Health Center.

“We’re really excited about this. Our whole goal is to be able to bring healthcare to the people,” she said Wednesday. “We’re bursting at the seams in our current practice. We needed to find a space that was accessible, affordable [and big enough to grow].”

The health center provides primary care, family medicine, mental health services, recovery services, a pharmacy and more. With community health care needs projected to increase, it was necessary to find more space, she said.

The buildings, with almost 320,000 square feet of office space, were originally constructed in the late 1990s to be a call center for credit giant MBNA. That company employed about 2,000 people in Belfast at its height of operations in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Bank of America acquired MBNA in 2005 and moved into the complex, but its workforce was much smaller and it didn’t need all the space. At some point, the bank sold the property to STAG IV Belfast LLC, part of real estate investment company Stag Capital of Boston.

Although Bank of America, which had 800 employees in 2018, remains one of the largest employers in Waldo County, it leases space for its operations from STAG IV.

The bank is expected to continue to operate in the same place if the deal between the health center and STAG IV goes through.  

“They would continue to be there,” Carlisle said. “As far as we know, and nothing is sure, the idea would be for them to be in place.”

The health center is not disclosing the purchase price and is still working out the details of financing. It hasn’t been decided yet if PCHC would search for tenants to fill some of the remaining vacant space in the buildings, she said.

Thomas Kittredge, the economic development director for the city of Belfast, said that city officials feel positively about the health center potentially purchasing the property, which has had a few roller coaster years.

In 2018, STAG IV and the city of Belfast came to an agreement after a years-long dispute about the property’s property tax valuation. In 2015, Belfast valued the property at $41 million, but its assessed value dropped to $11.2 million last year. The investment company does remain one of the city’s largest property taxpayers, paying $261,039 in 2020.  

Two years ago, the real estate investment company tried to sell the property at auction, with bids starting at $1.8 million, but its reserve wasn’t met and it wasn’t sold.

This year, Regional School District 71 announced it was exploring the possibility of buying three of the buildings for use as a consolidated elementary school. But in mid-May, that possibility was no longer on the table after the buildings were under contract to a different buyer. It wasn’t immediately clear if that buyer was PCHC.

“We’re happy to work with them,” Kittredge said of the PCHC. “We’re excited about the possibility of new ownership that may use the facility in a new and more extensive way than it has been recently and we’re prepared to work with them as a partner.”

Carlisle said that the health center is hoping to close on the real estate deal by the end of the year. After that, there would need to be renovations done before Seaport Community Health Center could move into one of the buildings.

“We’re not anticipating any lag in service or change in providers or anything,” she said. “We want it to be as seamless as possible for our patients.”