The owner of the downtown Gardiner building most damaged by fire last month is asking the city to let him tear down the building or take it off his hands.

It’s been about a month since a fire tore through a pair of buildings downtown, mostly gutting their interiors and collapsing a roof.

City officials say they would like to see the buildings and their four Water Street facades preserved and not become empty lots, but whether renovations are possible remains to be seen.

The building whose owner is seeking approval to demolish it, located at 235 Water St., sustained the most damage from the July 16 fire. The fire began in one of the building’s 12 apartment units and spread to an adjacent building, eventually causing the apartment building’s roof to cave in and opening a large U-shaped hole in its rear.

The building is connected to Gerard’s Pizza, which reopened last week after being closed since the fire.

The owner of the other building, at 247 Water St., where a tattoo studio had opened two weeks earlier, said he’s still waiting for more information from the insurance company.

The apartment building’s owner is seeking approval to tear it down from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

During an executive session in their meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, city councilors also will discuss a proposal from the owner, Wayne Chamberland, of JustnJake Property Management LLC, to give the city the property with a quitclaim deed.

To put the city in a better position to evaluate the building’s prospects, Gardiner Main Street submitted a request to the city committee managing the fire relief money raised by the community to hire an architect and a structural engineer to do an assessment of the building, said Patrick Wright, executive director of the downtown organization, and the committee agreed to do so.

Wright, who also serves as the city’s coordinator of economic and community development, said the city probably won’t be the property’s developer, but the assessment will provide cost estimates and help the city make an informed decision about what to do with the buildings.

The $1,000 that will be used for the assessment will come from the more than $23,000 that has been raised so far to support fire victims, money that one member of the committee fielding the requests says shouldn’t be used for building assessments.

George Trask, a former city councilor who ran for mayor last year, said he doesn’t think the fire relief funds were meant for the building owners or the city — if the city is interested in taking ownership. If the city wants to own the buildings, an idea Trask strongly opposes, it should use its own money, he said.

“That money wasn’t donated to the city. It was donated to the fire relief fund,” Trask said, adding that he was the only committee member who opposed the expenditure.

Wright and Mayor Thomas Harnett disagree with Trask’s objection.

“I understand where his concern is coming from,” Wright said, “but I think … the people who have been giving to that fund would see this as being in line with why they gave to the fund, and I wouldn’t give that a second thought.”

Harnett, who is on the committee with Trask, said the money is for all victims of the fire, including businesses. Some of the donations were earmarked to support the two businesses directly affected by the fire, Gerard’s Pizza and Touch of Grey Tattoo Studio, and Harnett considers the downtown landlords as businesses as well.

He said the fund has been used for the needs of all displaced residents who have requested help, and he sees the planned building assessment as being directed toward the downtown recovery.

“The bigger picture is the fire damaged and injured our downtown, and we are using funds to try to heal those injured and try to find the best way to move forward,” Harnett said. “Any insinuation that we’re diverting money from people who suffered harm is simply inaccurate.”

Chamberland, who lives in Connecticut, hasn’t responded to requests for comment relayed through Wright.

Paul McGuire, whom Wright identified as the owner of the building at 247 Water St., said he still was waiting for information from the insurance company when reached by phone Friday morning at O’Connor Auto Park in Augusta, where he is general manager. McGuire then said he isn’t the owner or manager of the corporation that owns the building, Aspire Corp., but declined to say how he’s involved in the company.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig

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