AUGUSTA — More downtown buildings are undergoing renovations meant to highlight their pasts, while equipping them for the future.

In the case of 190 Water St., the renovations begin at the ground floor on Water Street and continue on to the roof. In between, designer Laura Gall, whose husband, Jason, and his brother, Ryan Gall, have owned the building since 2002, has overseen a project that has exposed glass tile windows hidden for years and brick walls covered by layers of paint and drywall. The first floor commercial space of the building, home to Gevolution Fitness, has already been renovated. Work is underway converting the two high-ceilinged upper floors into what will be six upscale apartments in the 1909 building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

New mixes with old throughout the building, which has been largely vacant for the last five years.

“Everything we’ve done with this building has been an effort to maintain its historic integrity,” said Laura Gall, owner of Spaces by LLG, who has worked closely with contractor Bubba Emery, of Emery’s Construction in Fairfield, on the major renovation project. “The building was rough, really chopped up. The Gall family really wanted to see if it could be brought back to life. Everybody who has worked here has invested themselves in the building.”

The building is the latest old structure downtown to undergo renovations meant to find new uses and tenants, bringing them up to modern codes while preserving the historic, unique character lacking in many of today’s modern buildings.

Laura Gall said they wanted to contribute to what she said is the ongoing revitalization of the city’s downtown.

The Parkhurst family has renovated at least two other downtown Augusta buildings into commercial space on the first floor with upscale apartments on the upper floors. Members of the Guerrette family, through their firm Smithtown Four LLC, are also converting interconnected buildings at 221 to 239 Water St. into high-end apartments, adding sleek new appliances while preserving the historic architecture of their downtown buildings.

“These are exactly the kinds of projects we want to see,” said Steve Pecukonis, downtown manager and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit organization using the “Main Street” approach to downtown revitalization developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1980. “The Main Street program exists at the intersection of historic preservation and economic development. You want to revitalize downtowns while protecting and enhancing the unique historic buildings. We want to protect that unique sense of place and history that downtown Augusta has and build on that.”

Glenn Guerrette is involved with other Guerrette family members in the 221-239 Water St. project, but also recently discovered a surprise long hidden under the metal “Mid-State College” sign on his building across the street at 218 Water St.

When he had the Mid-State sign taken off, it revealed a detailed and apparently intact stained glass sign with the words “Retail, wholesale, candy, tobacco, fruit and produce” written in three blocks of white glass framed by clear glass blocks.

The sign is very close in style to the “Hersey’s Shoe Store” sign discovered during renovations at Tobias Parkhurst’s building, which is next door to the Galls’ building, which rises above what is now the Downtown Diner.

“We wanted to get the Mid-State College sign down, and doing that exposed the old stained glass sign,” Guerrette said. “It was an absolute surprise. I had no idea it was there. I was thrilled to see it. I’m absolutely going to keep it. I’ve already met with a designer. We’re going to incorporate that sign (into the design of the storefronts). I’m going to do some nice goose-neck lighting for it, give it old charm.”

Guerrette said apartments on the upper floors of the building, known as the Macomber Block, are mostly rented out. He hopes to attract tenants, including maybe a small grocery store, for two vacant storefronts on the ground floor, which would be sandwiched between Sonny’s Museum and Rock Shop on one side and Elhouri’s cell phone shop on the other.

He said that project is likely about a year off, as he’s currently focused on the family’s project across the street. He said those apartments have been snatched up by tenants as they’ve been completed, and they have three tenants living there now with a fourth committed to move in.

“There has been real demand,” Guerrette said. “People have been contacting us. That has given me the courage to invest some money and upgrade 218 Water St. Downtown feels like, after all these years of some of us investing down here, things are finally starting to happen.”

Pecukonis and Gall said they believe the demand is there for upscale housing in Augusta, even with so many new high-end apartments coming to the market within a couple of years of each other.

Pecukonis said the market seems driven by two demographic groups, baby boomers who’ve owned homes their entire lives who are tired of mowing lawns and shoveling snow and interested in living somewhere they can walk to restaurants, entertainment and shopping, and millennials in their 20s and 30s who also want to live somewhere they can access services without driving.

“I think that market is going to grow,” Pecukonis said. “Certain parts of the population are looking for a chance to come back to a downtown way of living.”

Gall noted 190 Water St. will have a lift capable of taking someone unable to climb stairs from the building’s rear Commercial Street entrance up to the planned second floor apartments.

The third floor apartments, accessible by stairs, are nearly done and should be available to rent soon. The Augusta Planning Board is scheduled to consider the Gall’s request to convert the second floor from commercial space to apartments, which requires a subdivision permit, at a meeting Tuesday.

Gall said many people have expressed interest in the apartments. She got a text during a Friday interview from a person who said they wanted one of the third floor apartments.

For most of its life, the Galls’ building served as the former D.W. Adams department store, according to Phyllis von Herrlich, a local historian and member of the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission and Kennebec Historical Society.

The building was built by Bussell and Weston Company and was Augusta’s largest department store, encompassing 15,000 square feet of floor space, according to “Downtown Augusta, Maine, A Brief Architectural and Historical Overview,” by Zachary Violette. Bussell and Weston closed in 1920 and D.W. Adams moved in until the store closed in 1981. Violette’s book notes the building is marked by Chicago style windows on the upper floors.

Gall said they replaced the old windows with more efficient, but still Chicago-style windows. Oakes and Parkhurst Glass, which recently relocated from Manchester to Augusta, installed the new windows to match the old.

The large windows, especially on the third floor, provide sweeping views of the Kennebec River, Old Fort Western on the opposite banks of the river, and downtown life, good and bad, on the streets below.

Gall said the loft-style apartments on the third floor will rent for between $1,200 for a one-bath, one-bedroom unit to $1,500 for either of the two, two-bath, two-bedroom units, heat included.

The apartments feature stone counter-tops, 12-foot high ceilings, modern stainless steel appliances and unique modern lighting.

Gall said each of the apartments has its own feel, something she aimed to foster in the design.

First floor tenant Gina LoMonaco, of Augusta, who with her husband, Richard Mansir, has run Gevolution Fitness for about a year, said she loves the renovated workout space, which is covered by a huge restored tin ceiling and features large support beams covered in rough wooden planks.

“I absolutely adore it. I love the way it turned out,” LoMonaco said. “They did a wonderful job, communicated so well, and did everything and anything we asked for.”

On the wall of the Commercial Street entrance to the gym, Gall had workers, without LoMonaco’s knowledge, paint the phrase “Live from Within” in large letters. LoMonaco said she uses the phrase, meant to empower members, in her blog, and the statement is an important part of their business.

“Laura went through my blogs and took the time to find something that really matches my business,” LoMonaco said of Gall having “Live from Within” painted on the wall. “It brought me to tears, that someone would do that. The Galls helped bring our business to life.”

Renovating old buildings isn’t for the meek or destitute. While she declined to reveal the cost of the project, Gall said it will take some time for the investment in it to be recouped from rent.

Old buildings also have their quirks.

Lurking in a closet at 190 Water St. is a nest of phone lines, Gall said, that were connected to multiple other downtown buildings in addition to their own building.

Among the challenges was how to create windows that didn’t look out of place next to the old-fashioned, block-like, ribbed glass tiles above the larger Chicago-style windows on each floor to fill spaces previously filled by rectangular exhaust vents in the old building. Gall said the glass tiles are no longer made in casts the way they used to be made. So instead, unique stained glass windows with ribbed glass sections were made to mimic the old glass, with some colored glass mixed in, all held together by lead.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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