AUGUSTA — The would-be developer of the historic Kennebec Arsenal property denies nearly every allegation made in a lawsuit filed by the state, which seeks to reclaim the property.

The state filed a court complaint April 24 against Arsenal owner Tom Niemann, saying his company has neglected the property in the six years since taking ownership from the state, and allowed extensive vandalism, theft and deterioration to occur.

The state, in the complaint, asks the court to order ownership of the National Historic Landmark property on the banks of the Kennebec River to be turned back over to the state. It also seeks damages, to pay for work to return the property to the condition it was in when Niemann bought it for $280,000 in 2007.

Short of returning the property to the state, the lawsuit alternatively seeks a $1 million bond and assurances from Niemann that he will protect, preserve and develop the property.

Niemann, through attorney Eric Wycoff, filed an 11-page response Wednesday to the state’s lawsuit.

The response essentially denies all the state’s allegations. It seeks judgment in Niemann’s favor and to have the state pay his attorney’s fees.

“Defendants also admit that the state’s complaint purports to seek to recover possession of the Arsenal; to require defendants to preserve, maintain, or repair the Arsenal; and to seek damages,” Wycoff wrote in part of the response. “Defendants deny the remaining material allegations.”

That final phrase is repeated in response to nearly every other allegation made in the 13-page state lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, filed by state Attorney General Janet Mills on behalf of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services and Maine Historic Preservation Commission, the property is described as “the best surviving example in the United States of an early nineteenth century munitions depot.”

The eight granite buildings were built between 1828 and 1838, “a time when there was still a very real fear that Great Britain might invade either by sea along Maine’s extensive coastline or by land from neighboring Canada,” the lawsuit notes. “The Arsenal ensured that defending forces could be adequately equipped with necessary military supplies.”

The federal government closed the property in 1901, and it soon began a second life as part of the state mental hospital.

In 2007 the state sold the then-vacant property to Niemann’s firms, Niemann Capital LLC and Main Street I LLC, with covenants requiring him to preserve, maintain and repair the property to preserve its value as an historic place.

The lawsuit alleges he failed to do so, and “as a result there has been extensive vandalism, including numerous broken windows, graffiti, damage to HVAC equipment, and the setting of at least one fire within a building. Also as a result, thieves have removed historically significant items, such as cast iron balusters, bronze handrails, and plaques, along with copper piping and electrical wiring and conduits.”

Kathleen “Sukey” Sikora, an Augusta resident working for Niemann at the Arsenal, recently told Augusta city councilors work has taken place on the property, including the installation of a new, $12,000 roof on the gatehouse building just before the lawsuit was filed. She said electricity has been restored to part of the complex, enabling security cameras to function.

In April, before the lawsuit was filed, Niemann announced he has a new partner in the project, Joseph Casalinova of Oxford-based Casalinova Development Group, who he said would work with him to turn the property into a wellness center.

Casalinova confirmed Friday that he is involved, but said the project is a work in progress, in part because “once the lawsuit was filed, all communication with the state stopped.”

“Are we doing something? Yes,” Casalinova said. “We’re working on a plan, but there has been no closure to anything yet.”

Niemann, in announcing the partnership, said Casalinova is a master developer with a background in historic preservation development.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]