AUGUSTA — The building has a lot of problems: Two different bad roofs, ceilings fallen in, an old electrical system, a sprinkler system that failed its last inspection, and retail tenants on the ground floor who were forced to close six weeks ago.

When he bought the building at 275-287 Water St. on Friday, developer Richard Parkhurst took on all of that. But in his estimation, what he got was about 35,000 square feet of potential in downtown Augusta with a stunning view of the Kennebec River.

“Two weeks from now, I’ll know more than I do now,” he said, standing in a vacant space on the building’s top floor overlooking the river Friday afternoon. In those two weeks, some selective demolition will clear out enough of the building for the architect to take a good look at what’s there.

“Augusta doesn’t need more office space,” he said.

The city code enforcement office shut down the building six weeks ago, displacing a restaurant and two other businesses. It was owned by Mark Zaloga, of New York, who shortly after closed the building and evicted the tenants rather than address code issues.

If Parkhurst is sure what’s not going to happen in the building, he’s still open to what might be developed. For now, he said he’s thinking about maybe 12 apartments — two high-end and 10 less so — restaurant space and retail. Or a roof-top restaurant might be developed instead of the luxury apartments. A portion of the building is in the flood plain, and that makes it a good option to be made over for dedicated parking for residents.


Parkhurst made an offer on the building a few years ago, but that went nowhere. “One of the reasons I bought it was to protect the interests we already have on the street,” he said.

Parkhurst is the president of the nonprofit organization that’s renovating the Colonial Theater, and he owns the former Chernowsky’s building. His son Tobias owns two other buildings.

“From Waterville to Gardiner, Augusta has the best opportunity for waterfront development, but it has not made the most of it,” he said.

Making downtown Augusta a destination will be key to its success, David Leach said. Leach, a lecturer at the University of Maine at Augusta, teaches several business courses, including one on commercial lending. His students have looked at instances in Maine where an investment in commercial property in a downtown area can spark change over time.

“In the 1982 Freeport fire, the H.E. Davis block burned right across from L.L. Bean. Then Dansk came in and opened a factory outlet, and a decade later, there were 100 factory outlets,” he said. That turned Freeport into a unique shopping destination that draws thousands of people every year.

Downtown Augusta has similar opportunities to build on, he said. As the state capital and a regional retail center, Augusta attracts traffic, and the downtown has a historic character. People, he said, need an incentive to get out of their cars and spend some time downtown.


“There’s a lot of uncertainty here, but good things can happen,” he said.

Melanie Baillargeon, president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, the organization that works to improve the city’s downtown, said there’s no downside to the deal.

“The building was in jeopardy. People’s livelihoods were at stake. Richard is already a property owner downtown and is successful. He develops a building with a vision in mind, and it contributes to the economy and community of downtown Augusta,” she said.

Meantime, more pressing practical matters are front and center: Parkhurst has already contracted with G and E Roofing Co. to replace the roofs, and he has to replace a leaky valve in the fire suppression system. Because it has to be fabricated, that may take as long as six weeks. Parkhurst has also had electricians in to see what needs to be done.

“The building’s got a list of challenges that’s fairly long,” said Matt Nazar, director of Development Services for Augusta. “From a safety perspective, we had some very serious concerns. If left for any significant time, it would deteriorate rapidly, which could create problems for the building and its neighbor. It shares a wall with the neighbor to the north.”

Although Parkhurst has wasted no time in taking steps to stabilize the building, the path ahead for the three ground-floor businesses that were forced to close six weeks ago is less clear.


City officials cited problems with the sprinkler and electrical systems when ordering the building to be vacated on Aug. 26. In addition, Augusta code enforcement official Rob Overton said the building lacked fire alarms.

“We’re just hoping he can make those repairs so the businesses can be opened up again,” Overton said.

Parkhurst said he plans to offer his new tenants some options. He doesn’t intend to charge rent for the balance of October. If the tenants — Gagliano’s Italian Bistro, Forbidden Fruit and Patricia Buck Bridal — want to stay, they could pay storage fee of some sort in November.

“By the first of December, the goal is to see if those tenants want to come back in or even whether they can,” he said.

While the city has allowed access to the building for business owners, the public has not been allowed inside during the shutdown.

Passersby can see into the closed businesses on the ground floor, but the building’s upper floors have an eerie, worn-out tale to tell of office spaces abandoned. Yet the space is filled with artifacts of daily work life, like the physical therapy equipment in one office tucked behind a reception area and the Rolodexes, penholders and other accessories that litter desktops and shelves. Wall-to-wall carpet of various vintages covers the floors, and in some areas of the building, the sound of dripping water adds an understated soundtrack. Chairs and clothing racks and boxes and tables fill rooms that link with other rooms that hold piles of clothes and store fixtures.


The building was built in 1871. Since then it has housed a men’s clothing store, a women’s clothing store, an office of the Gallup polling organization, an office for Big Brothers and Big Sisters and dozens of others.

On paper, it appears that Parkhurst got a good deal from previous owner Zaloga, who didn’t return calls for comment Friday.

City records show the building’s assessment is $353,900 and he paid $160,000. But now the meter is running. The roof will cost about $130,000, and the valve could be about $7,000. The building now has oil-fired steam heat, and he said he’ll swap that out for natural gas.

There’s not much worth saving in the building, he said, and he estimates the contents of the upper floors could fill 100 dumpsters.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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