Friday, December 13, 2013
BY LESLIE BRIDGERS
BY LESLIE BRIDGERS
Portland Press Herald
Three old elementary schools in Greater Portland may soon get new lives as condominiums and apartments after officials in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook took steps last week toward the sale of unwanted properties.
On the surface, the three projects seem similar -- each an old elementary school in a residential neighborhood being sold for residential redevelopment. So why do the sales prices vary from $1 to more than $500,000?
The Portland City Council on Monday effectively gave away the historic and stately Nathan Clifford School for $1 so it can be renovated into 22 market-rate apartments just off the tenant-saturated downtown peninsula.
The city of Westbrook has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to sell the rundown Prides Corner Elementary School for $650,000, to be turned into as many as 98 apartments between rural land and U.S. Route 302.
South Portland city councilors will meet next month to choose between the two highest bids from developers interested in the former Roosevelt Elementary School -- $525,000 for 40 senior housing apartments or $218,000 for 19 market-rate condominiums.
Developers say the difference in value is in the details.
A major factor is that three different firms are doing the projects, said Kevin Bunker of Portland-based Developers Collaborative, which will renovate the Nathan Clifford School.
"We might be all wrong or we might be all right," he said of their assessments of the three properties' worth.
Bunker said his firm was awarded the land because it proposed to build fewer units than other developers -- something that the neighborhood wanted -- but that depreciated the value of the project.
Developers Collaborative had offered $200,000 for the property and planned to build two duplexes on the land as well as renovate the school. The city asked the firm to nix its duplex plans and instead turn that land into open space. That's why the price dropped.
"I think it would have been a better deal if we paid $200,000," Bunker said.
In Westbrook, the city insisted on keeping a 28,000-square-foot commercially zoned parcel along Route 302 as part of its negotiations with developer Vincent Maietta, said City Administrator Jerre Bryant.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the sale at a meeting on Nov. 4.
Maietta said he wasn't sure whether he would reuse the 63-year-old Prides Corner school building, which he called "a mess."
Both he and Bunker noted that it's often more expensive to renovate a building than build a new one. Bunker, however, doesn't have a choice with the 104-year-old historic school and neither will the developer of the Roosevelt School in South Portland, where city councilors have mandated that the front and sides of the building remain intact.
Both the Portland and South Portland school buildings were designed by renowned architect John Calvin Stevens.
Maietta said what gives the Westbrook property value is the number of units he can build on it -- multiple times the number of the proposals for the other schools.
Although Maietta said he won't nail down the details before the council vote, the basic plans include having four or five buildings, up to three stories high, on the 10-acre property.
Maietta, who has historically done commercial developments, said he plans to build several hundred market-rate apartments in the area within the next couple of years.
"We think there's a need for housing and we'd like to be a part of that," he said.
South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey still has to crunch some numbers to figure out which of the two proposed projects will be more lucrative for the city.
The South Portland Housing Authority is offering more money for the land to build 40 affordable senior apartments, but the 19 market-rate condominiums proposed by developer Ethan Boxer-Macomber could generate enough taxes over the next 10 years to make it a better deal, said Gailey.
Those are "numbers we're working out," he said.