GARDINER — Within the last month, three fire-damaged buildings and a vacant lot on Gardiner’s historic Water Street have gained new owners who have plans for the properties.

Ed Raws bought the vacant lot at 235 Water St. and the building just west of it from Justnjake Property Management, and Terry Berry bought 251 Water St. from Aspire Corp.

The buildings were damaged when fire broke out in 235 Water St. on the afternoon of July 16, 2015, and spread west into 251 Water St. When it was over, 235 Water St. was so badly damaged that it was demolished four months later.

While Gerard’s Pizza at 233 Water St. reopened weeks after the fire, the other fire-damaged buildings have stood for more than a year and a half, boarded up and locked, but not sealed against the weather. A hole can be seen along the rear roof line where fire burned through, and some of the windows no longer are blocked with plywood.

“It’s waterlogged and it stinks in there,” Berry, who is a real estate agent with Oceanside Realty Trust and the Gardiner city councilor for District 1, said Monday. “And there’s a fair amount of mold.”

A brief tour of his building Tuesday bore that out.

Mold is creeping up the walls behind the peeling wallpaper, and the fiberboard that was under the carpet that’s been long since removed is buckled and waterlogged. Venting and wiring have been exposed where ceilings were pulled down, and the building reeks of mildew.

“Everything will have to go,” Berry said.

While his building was originally two 14-foot-wide buildings, Berry said he plans to treat it as one 28-foot-wide building, with retail or office space on the ground floor and “nice” apartments on the two upper floors. But if someone were interested in using the entire building for offices, he could do that, too. While he plans to renovate and lease the buildings, he said he might sell them if he gets a good offer.

Berry said a construction dumpster is expected to arrive next week, and shortly afterward work is expected to start on the roof. That will seal up the building against the weather and allow work to start on the interior, which includes replacing the wiring and plumbing and installing a heating system, which will be housed above the ground floor. His $23,000 investment in the property is only the beginning.

Raws, a Gardiner resident, is partnering with Chris Vallee to develop a bar in the building and a deck on the vacant lot, the same kind of set-up used at the Quarry Tap Room in Hallowell, where Vallee is a partner in the business. In 2015 the partners bought the vacant lot adjoining that property— coincidentally, from Berry, who originally had planned to put up a building on that site. That space now is used for outdoor seating for the tap room.

He said he expects to start demolition next week and he and Vallee plan to open the bar by the end of May to take advantage of the summer season.

“We’re going to go as fast as we can,” he said. Their immediate focus will be on the first floor. The second floor might be developed into a function room or a second bar. The top floor would be offices and storage. Raws said he has no plans to put residential units above a bar.

“Water Street itself is gorgeous,” said Raws, who declined to give the property’s purchase price. “And there’s plenty of parking behind it. And with the stream right there, it’s got stuff. It’s got the makings of something that people will enjoy while they are there.”

Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said the Water Street fire had the potential to set back the community’s accomplishments in revitalizing downtown Gardiner, but that doesn’t appear to be happening.

“I have noticed there is an unbelievable uptick interest in real estate in downtown Gardiner,” he said. “These owners see the opportunity, and I look forward to working with them to develop those opportunities. These buildings have a very real prospect for rehabilitation.”

Both buildings are in the floodplain, and that will require some extra steps, such as moving mechanical systems above the level of a possible flood.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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