AUGUSTA — It’s still a long, long way from its glory days — past or future — but some maintenance work is taking place at the historic Kennebec Arsenal.

Its lawns have been mowed.

A local woman noted for her aptitude in removing graffiti has removed most of the paint vandals sprayed on the historic property’s granite walls.

And North Carolina developer Tom Niemann, whose firm took ownership of the site from the state in 2007, said Friday he has chosen a local caretaker who he said will check on the property at least daily to ensure it’s secure.

Niemann said he will also focus efforts on renovating a former barracks building on the site in hopes of having it fixed up enough to serve as a residence or at least office for a caretaker.

He said having a caretaker on site will serve as a deterrent to vandals and other threats to the property.

“Hopefully, we’ll have someone with boots on the ground, day in, day out, in the next two or three days,” Niemann said Friday while in Maine to work on the Arsenal project. “And then focus on getting some presence in the barracks building. To get a regular presence on site would be great for caretaking and security.

“These buildings are too precious, too important, to not pay attention to.”

The state sold Niemann’s firm the vacant riverside site with big hopes from all involved that Niemann could redevelop it for new uses, including housing, shops and eateries.

None of that hoped-for development has taken place, with Niemann primarily blaming a lack of financing amid a sluggish economy.

Local and state officials expressed concern — and even suggested the state would look into taking the property back — after they said the property was being neglected and left unsecured by Niemann, allowing vandals and vagrants to damage the buildings.

Niemann acknowledged in an op-ed in the Kennebec Journal this week he was disgusted at himself “for allowing the Kennebec Arsenal to fall prey to vandals and potential drug dealers. It will never happen again.”

City Manager William Bridgeo — who, with other city officials, met with Niemann to discuss the Arsenal two weeks ago — said Niemann “expressed his personal intention to ramp up his efforts at securing, preserving and developing the Arsenal property.”

Bridgeo said he has “adopted a wait-and-see approach, to see if he follows through with his recent expressions of commitment.”

“There certainly haven’t been any dramatic developments since then,” Bridgeo said of the work that has taken place recently at the property, which is a designated National Historic Landmark. “But anything Tom does to make the situation better is most welcome. It’s a big project. There is an awful lot that needs to be done there.”

Niemann said he is working with Augusta resident Kathleen Sikora to get rid of graffiti at the Arsenal.

Last year, Sikora went on a personal mission covering up graffiti throughout Augusta. The effort earned her a Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award.

Niemann said Sikora has already covered up most of the graffiti on the grounds, though she may return for a second coat of paint.

Also, early this week, a crew from Benton-based Goodwin’s Unlimited was at work on the 22-acre grounds, cleaning up trash and mowing down knee-high grass that had grown on the property’s extensive lawns.

It’s not the first time the company has worked for Niemann. In 2009, the firm was hired to mow the Arsenal lawns and do other work, which totaled $4,500.

Co-owner Kim Goodwin said Niemann only paid half that bill — and only after they mailed collection notices, in 2010.

Goodwin said this week Niemann has not only paid what he owed from the previous job, he prepaid them for their work this week at the property.

As far as moving beyond protecting the site to developing new uses there, Niemann said his firm would still love to recruit a major tenant for the Arsenal’s larger buildings.

But he said they will also have to think small.

“We’re still going to market (the larger parts of the site to major tenants) but, given this market, we also need to look at how we develop one building at a time,” Niemann said. “We’re going to try to do something sooner, rather than later, despite the market. We’re committed to taking that approach here on out.”

In the meantime, Bridgeo said he will remain in touch with state officials so they are, together, ready to take steps to prevent the property from declining further.

“Typically, people in Augusta city government — elected or appointed — are naturally inclined toward giving people the benefit of the doubt,” Bridgeo said Friday.

“I’d say that we’re willing to do that in this case. Tom has said his situation is improving financially with his other projects, and that he is going to be able to channel more resources into this one.

“I hope that’s true. We’ll have to see.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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