AUGUSTA — Revitalizing downtown has long been a priority for city officials and business leaders hoping each new project proves to be the turning point for the four-block stretch that’s plagued with vacant storefronts and underused buildings.

But some believe the upward swing is already taking place — a few new restaurants have opened in the last two years, and Augusta Downtown Alliance plans to hire a downtown manager.

William Guerrette III’s vision for downtown’s future includes a two-tier rooftop terrace, a private fitness room and balconies with views of the river.

Guerrette and his family’s real estate company, Smithtown Four LLC, managed by Guerrette Properties, plan to open nine high-end, loft-style apartments on the river side of Water Street by the end of next year.

The first stage of the project, two apartments around 1,000-square feet each, is expected to be finished by the end of this year, Guerrette said. The company applied for work permits last week.

The 100,000 square feet unit at 221–239 Water St., in the block between Winthrop and Bridge streets, has been empty since Macpage LLC, an accounting and tax service firm, moved into a new building a block south at 1 Market Square about two years ago.

Glen Guerrette, Guerrette’s uncle, one of the owners of the building, had been talking about converting it into apartments for about a year, but the project didn’t get rolling until a visit to the rooftop, William Guerrette said.

The view from the top of the building offers a panoramic view of the Kennebec River and Fort Western on the east bank.

“I went up on the roof and said, ‘We’ve got to do something with this,’” William Guerrette said.

Since June, Guerrette has been helping to develop the plans for the project, which he estimated will cost well over a half-million dollars by the time it’s finished.

The size of the nine apartments will vary. The larger ones will be more than 1,000-square feet, while smaller efficiency apartments will be 650 to 750-square feet.

Rents will also vary depending on the size, up to $1,500 for the larger units and $800 for the smaller apartments.

Guerrette said the biggest challenge might be fetching those prices.

Higher-end apartments aren’t a new concept in downtown Augusta.

Richard and Tobias Parkhurst, a father and son who each own a couple of buildings downtown, have been developing more upscale apartments for a few years.

The pair have 10 units between them and charge between $850 and $1,275 a month, significantly higher than the market rate of $675 for a one bedroom in Augusta. Since opening the apartments over the course of several years, they haven’t had one unit empty for a month, Tobias Parkhurst said.

He said he’s glad that Guerrette, who cited the Parkhursts’ success as giving the group courage to pursue the project, plans to add more apartments downtown.

“I think that Augusta in general has a shortage of medium and high-income housing,” Parkhurst said. “I think we inadvertently kicked people out of our city by not giving them places to live.”

Roger Katz of Lipman & Katz, a law firm in the same building as Guerrette’s planned development, said the downtown has done a better job of attracting new businesses and office dwellers, but more residential options are needed.

“This is real good news for the third leg of that stool,” said Katz, a Republican state senator. “People who live in the downtown help create a buzz and a vibrancy that keeps it going after five o’clock.”
Katz said the “spectacular” river views will be a big selling point to future tenants.

When he was a child, people wanted to build away from the river, not toward it. That’s changed, and now the river is an asset, he said.

As for having construction going on above his head for the next year, Katz said it won’t be a problem.

“I’m listening to the hammers as we speak,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “That’s the price of progress, and we’ll be happy with the result.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]