Removal of former Old Town Canoe factory gives city new look

Posted March 21, 2014, at 3:41 p.m.
Last modified March 22, 2014, at 2:25 p.m.

OLD TOWN, Maine — The remediation work at the former Old Town Canoe location in the heart of the city has removed most of the historic factory and associated buildings and in doing so has given the area a new look.

“It’s unbelievable, if you’re familiar with Old Town, to see the difference,” Town Manager Bill Mayo said Friday. “People who haven’t seen the river for 100 years from their homes, can see the river and park.”

What will replace the former canoe and kayak manufacturing site is yet to be decided and now is the time to start discussions about what residents want on the approximately 6 downtown acres, Mayo said.

“Sewall would like to build a new building on the site, they’ve been in town for over 100 years, but that is contingent on them selling the building they’re in,” the town manager said, referring to James W. Sewall Co. “Right now, the Old Town Development Committee is just starting the process of coming up with some ideas. Whether it would be developed as just commercial space or a combination of commercial and residential is now being decided.”

If Sewall were to establish a new 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot headquarters at the Middle Street end of the site, they would use about half of the available acreage, leaving the rest for other developments, Mayo said.

“People forget about the old White Canoe building,” which was removed a couple years ago, the town manager said. “That’s also part of that [project area].”

Old Town Canoe, which was acquired by Johnson Outdoors in 1974, moved manufacturing from its Middle Street factory to a plant on Gilman Avenue in 2009. The company then sold the downtown site to the city for a $1 in 2011. The city was able to get a $600,000 EPA Brownfields grant to clean up the former factory site, and paid $147,000 to demolish the buildings.

Thibodeau Construction is doing the demolition work and debris removal work, which must be finished by May 31.

A public hearing is planned for later this spring to get input about redeveloping the site from residents, who also are encouraged to contact their local city councilor or Mayo.

“This is really just ramping up to what is going to happen moving forward,” the town manager said.