GARDINER — In a move that is likely to change the face of downtown Gardiner, Camden National Bank has donated a historic block of buildings to Gardiner Main Street for redevelopment.

The block, 149-167 Water St., consists of five brick buildings that make up about 23,000 square feet of space and have a view of the Kennebec River from their rear windows.

At a brief ceremony in the building Wednesday, Greg Dufour, president and chief executive officer of Camden National Bank, made the announcement to a crowd of about 60 people gathered in 149 Water St.

Dufour, whose Camden National Bank acquired the properties through its 2015 acquisition of the Bank of Maine, said he has been excited by what he has seen going on in downtown Gardiner.

“We embrace being a community bank, and by doing so, we’ve got to be part of the community,” he said.

Part of the decision to give the properties to Gardiner Main Street was understanding that the bank’s strength was not being a developer of historic buildings, he said, but the bank could give the buildings to people who have the vision and the energy to develop them for the benefit of the city of Gardiner.

“It’s really exciting, from my perspective,” Dufour said. “You can see just the huge potential that is here. I am not a construction person, but it’s got good bones. I don’t have a historic perspective, but I am sure there are many here who could tell stories about what’s happening in these buildings, and your children can tell stories about what happened here.”

Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said he had to correct Dufour on one point.

“We did pay for these buildings,” Wright said. “We paid one dollar exactly. Isn’t it amazing what you can get for a buck these days?”

He said there was some trepidation, anxiety and concern in Gardiner when Camden National Bank completed its acquisition of the Bank of Maine, which had a large footprint in Gardiner.

But the gift of the buildings proves that Camden National Bank has the ability to be both the biggest bank in the state and a community bank, he said.

“That’s a hard thing to pull off in this day and age,” Wright said, “especially in banking.”

In the short term, Gardiner Main Street will move its co-working space on the third floor of a neighboring building to the finished ground-floor portion of 149 Water St., which has space for a number of shared amenities, a conference room and a mix of private offices and shared desk space. Renting out part of that space will help carry the costs of the rest of the project.

In the longer term, Gardiner Main Street is seeking redevelopment partners to build out the vacant space. It’s anticipated that the work would be financed through the sale of historical tax credits, grant support, private equity investment and traditional financing to build out the space, and also is seeking a development partner. In the meantime, acquiring the property with no debt gives the organization time to develop its plan.

Gardiner Main Street is planning to pilot a program that could be repeated in downtowns throughout Maine by creating a Maine Makers Marketplace. Gardiner Main Street is working with Developers Collaborative, the Maine Craft Association and Maine Preservation to develop the vacant parcel at 129 Water St. into a series of affordable live-work spaces for crafts people and entrepreneurs.

Wright said as far as he knows, this is the only project of its kind that any Main Street program has taken on in the state. “It fundamentally transforms who we are. We appreciate your support and patience. It’s a big step.”

“It’s time we walked the talk,” Wright said. For about 15 years, Gardiner Main Street has been working with business and property owners to develop downtown Gardiner. It’s time, he said, that Gardiner Main Street made the same investment.

The mission of Gardiner Main Street is strengthening Gardiner as a regional hub for commerce, community and culture.

“It shows a lot courage on the part of our board of directors to move forward with this,” he said, “and faith on the part of Camden National Bank to give us the opportunity.”

The block of buildings dates back to the mid- to late 1800s and has been known collectively as the Dingley Block, built by the Dingley brothers, who operated a hardware store there for about 50 years. In the decades since, the block has been home to enterprises as varied as a steam laundry, a grocery, a bowling alley, a grist mill, a restaurant and a wood, iron and ship chandlery.

The buildings were originally under separate ownership, but they all will all become property of Gardiner Main Street.

Wright said Gardiner Main Street will not be seeking a waiver on paying property tax on the buildings. The land and buildings are currently valued at around $450,000, Because the vast majority of the building space is empty and undeveloped, they contribute very little to the tax base, Wright said. As they are redeveloped, their value will increase significantly and will likewise increase Gardiner’s tax base significantly.

“It’s an amazing day for the city of Gardiner,” Mayor Thom Harnett said. “It’s true that City Manager Scott Morelli and I were the meetings, but this is due to the work of Greg and Patrick.”

The project is not without its challenges, Harnett said, but with great challenges come great opportunities.

One of those opportunities, beyond developing market rate apartments on the upper floors and commercial spaces on the street level, is joining Gardiner’s downtown with its waterfront.

“We need the people who come to the waterfront to come downtown, and frankly, spend money,” Harnett said. “That’s what we need to do to revitalize this city. I see nothing but wonderful things ahead.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

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Twitter: @JLowellKJ