Brunswick’s old firehouse, built in 1919, is one of the few remaining historically significant buildings in town. After the site fell into disrepair, the fire department moved into a newly constructed fire station earlier this year on Pleasant Street, leaving the historic building vacant, but open for new opportunities. Following recent efforts by the Brunswick Town Council, this town landmark will take on a new role in the community as affordable apartments and a brewing company move in.
During its October 2 meeting, the Town Council voted 7–1 to go through with the Purchase, Sale and Development agreement, which will grant the construction company Developers Collaborative (DC) a 55 percent share of the town’s historic fire station.
The sale to DC included an agreement to convert the upper floor of the building to five units of affordable housing and the lower floor to Moderation Brewing Co.’s new tasting room—the business currently operates in a much smaller location on Maine Street. The renovations will be partly funded by grants for the preservation of historic buildings, either at the local or national level.
“In the last couple of decades, the town has torn down a bunch of historic buildings. The Old Town Hall was torn down, and the high school was torn down for a variety of reasons,” District 3 Council Member Abby King said. “But this is sort of one of the last remaining town properties that has significant historical significance.”
King served on the board of the advisory committee for the development of the fire station.
The advisory committee surveyed residents to learn what was important to them in determining the old building’s future use. For the committee and townspeople, it mattered that the building goes on the tax rolls, rather than continuing as a public space that does not generate revenue for Brunswick.
“I was shocked that we were able to get a proposal that really fit the vision that the town said that they wanted. It had commercial space that would be on the tax rolls, it had affordable housing and it had a plan for green space out front. There’s a lot of green construction elements. It really, really fit well with the community feedback that we got. And [DC] was a local team,” King said.
Due to the unique balance of priorities gauged from surveys and the committee, it was difficult to find an entity that would be interested in purchasing the building and could execute the town’s goals.
“I think they did a pre-proposal meeting, and they had at least five or six developers come and look at the building,” King said. “However, we ended up only getting one proposal. It was from a local developer, Developers Collaborative.… I think they’ve done almost 20 projects in the state, so they definitely have a good background in this.”
While DC will own 55 percent of the parcel, the rest will be available for public use, including additional parking spaces. The committee cited the restricted vision for the building’s use as the reason for low interest in the property.
DC’s investment will be about $3.5 million dollars due to the extensive renovations required to maintain the old building. Aside from safety concerns such as asbestos, the historical quality of the building must be preserved as it takes on a new appearance. Further, it must be developed using sustainable building practices mandated by the town.
Before the vote, many townspeople voiced their concerns with a $200,000 price for the property, expressing that DC should pay more to acquire the building. However, town officials stayed firm that this was a reasonable ask, considering the predicted cost of renovations that will now fall upon DC instead of the town.
“I think there’s a reason why we only got one proposal, and that’s because we got feedback from other developers that [they couldn’t] make the financials work. [They would say,] ‘We just can’t do it and also preserve the historic façade,’ which people said they wanted,” King said.
Chrissy Andamowicz, the economic development manager, presented the deal and summed up the council’s argument in support of it by highlighting its contributions to the town.
“It supports people, it supports the economy and it supports the environment,” he said.
Council members raised questions regarding the length of time that the affordable housing measures would be enforced (which range from 30-45 years, depending on the grant source), but overall, the majority voiced support for the development.
“This is an opportunity to have 100 percent use, to have it saved for historical interest and have it become an asset to the community. Not just for housing, but for business growth because the entity that’s going into this … is growing and needs to grow. This is what we want … businesses coming into Brunswick, growing and needing bigger space,” Town Council Member David Watson said.