September 29, 2013

Torched downtown Waterville building to be razed; rebuild possible

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — The owner of a downtown building that burned on May 3 said he plans to raze the structure and possibly build another one at the site.

click image to enlarge

John Weeks on Wednesda stands in front of his downtown Waterville building on Main Street that was destroyed by fire in May. Weeks says he plans to raze the structure and possibly build another at the site.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

John Weeks walks through the damaged first floor of his Main Street building in Waterville that was destroyed by fire last May. Weeks says he plans to demolish the structure and may rebuild at the location.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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John Weeks is in the process, he said, of getting money from his insurance company to tear down the four-story building at 16–18 Main St., just south of Silver Street Tavern.

"In their opinion it was a total loss," Weeks said of insurance officials. "My hope is to get it down before winter."

Weeks said he wants to do business downtown, but what he builds on the fire site will be driven by finances. If he does build, it may not be right on Main Street, but behind it, where he owns a parking area.

"My intention is to put something back there, but economics will play a big role in my decision," he said.

The State Fire Marshal's Office concluded that the blaze started on a third-floor deck and the cause of the fire is undetermined.

"There was serious, serious water damage, and it's a wooden structure inside," Weeks said. He estimated the cost to demolish the 10,000-square-foot building at $150,000.

Removal of the building will leave a large gap, but it is not the first time fire has ravaged downtown, leaving gaps where buildings once were.

In February 1967, the Haines Theatre at 175 Main St. was destroyed by fire. The theater, which opened in 1918, was between what is now DK Nails and an office building.

A landscaped area with benches and a bike rack and a drive-thru for TD Bank, which has an office is across Main Street, also occupy the space.

In May 1973, fire destroyed Gerard's Restaurant, the former Gallert Shoe Store and two other buildings on lower Main Street.

The structures that burned were between what is now Larsen's Jewelry and Camden National Bank.

The gap is now filled with two buildings that house GHM Insurance and A&L Barber Shop as well as a small landscaped park. The park includes pine trees, benches, a walkway to Front Street and a mural painted painted on the side of building constructed after the fire.

Time to be smart

Losing old buildings such as Week's red-brick one is difficult and the ones downtown are intricately tied to adjacent properties, according to Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street.

"I'm sad about it," she said. "What is most important to me is that whatever happens on that property is going to affect the neighbors. We have a lot of beautiful old building stock, so what we do matters. This is a great big example of why we have to be sure that in our commercial core we really be smart about preserving as many buildings as we can."

Olsen said she looks forward to seeing Weeks' plans and talking with him about it if he decides to build again.

Like Olsen, City Manager Michael Roy said losing buildings is tough.

"We're sad about losing a building of that size on our main street, but if it's a total loss, the sooner it comes down, the better," he said.

Mayor Karen Heck said it is a shame the building has to be razed, but she understands why it must happen.

"I'm sorry that the sprinklers weren't functioning so we might have saved another historic building in Waterville," she said.

Charlie Giguere owns a building next to the fire site that houses his business, Silver Street Tavern, as well apartments.

The apartments were damaged by smoke from the fire and firefighters broke down apartment doors and pushed out windows in the building to fight the flames across the alley.

(Continued on page 2)

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