Saturday, May 18, 2013
I'm disgusted at myself for allowing the Kennebec Arsenal to fall prey to vandals and potential drug dealers. It will never happen again. I'm angry with myself, because my actions went against a core tenet of why I became a developer of historic buildings in the first place.
I grew up in awe of great architecture and marveled at life whenever we went downtown, from store to store, talking to members of the community just doing everyday tasks. Then I witnessed communities decay, when big malls took away businesses from downtown and emptied city centers.
Historic buildings fell into disrepair. Some great architectural structures were even bulldozed. In the name of progress, the quality of life of thousands of good people was taken away.
I love the challenge of turning around a situation. Renovating historic buildings has given me the opportunity to bring life back to downtown areas in North Carolina and Maine. Revitalizing downtowns by reclaiming historic buildings is my passion.
I truly am sorry for the heartache I may have caused the citizens of Augusta.
When I first came to Maine, I fell in love -- with its downtowns, its community life and its wonderful people. Every time I return, when I step off the plane, I feel I've come home. I'm invested in Maine emotionally and spiritually, not just financially.
Back in 2006, I committed myself to Maine. I worked with state legislators, Gov. John Baldacci, the business community, local municipalities and the congressional delegation to introduce ways to help developers invest in renovating historic buildings.
At that time, the laws were geared to assist new development, so it wasn't cost-effective for developers to invest in downtown, historic sites.
In the end two separate laws, one for the Hathaway Center and one for the Kennebec Arsenal, were passed with almost unanimous support from the Maine State Legislature.
That led the way for a new statewide law, which balances the scales for historic renovations with other developments. I supported the bill, which was spearheaded by community organizations. After long hours of negotiations with officials, it also passed with tremendous bipartisan support. Last session it was extended.
Now developers across the state are able to renovate historic buildings, helping the downtown communities they serve on a level playing field.
Niemann Capital searched the state for other properties and signed an agreement to purchase another building in Brewer. When Cianbro took an interest in the site, we stepped aside, asking only that our costs be reimbursed.
Manufacturing jobs were needed, and we understood. We pride our company on working with and helping communities.
Two years ago, I found that I had to turn my life around and restructure my business, largely because of the recession. I, like many others, was caught up in a whirlwind, but I've come out the other side stabilized.
Niemann Capital partially owns five historic properties, two in Maine; keeping them afloat took all my time.
During that time, there were bright spots, such as the Hathaway Center in Waterville.
The first building's renovation in this complex was successfully completed two years ago. We contracted great local companies that put their heart and soul into the renovation of that historic landmark. Companies have moved in and residents fill our apartments.
While the renovations took place, I was blown away by the work ethic of the people in Maine. I will not let the people of Maine down. I'm proud of the Hathaway Center and the positive work Niemann Capital has done in Maine.
I have every intention of turning around the situation with the Kennebec Arsenal. On Wednesday, I met with state and local officials in Augusta about the property.
I am in the process of hiring a caretaker for the arsenal and people to clean up the site. I will be in Maine every month, on a regular basis. It is high time for me to correct this situation. I am taking action.
By Oct. 31, if this is not the case, I implore this paper to hold me accountable.
Tom Niemann is president and chief executive officer of Niemann Capital, the North Carolina investment firm that renovates historic properties.