GARDINER — A public real estate auction has been scheduled for later this month at the former home of Lost Orchard Brewing in the Crooked Halo Cider House.

Earlier this year, company President David Boucher acknowledged at a Gardiner City Council meeting that he was scaling back his plans for the business.

But it’s not clear the tasting room in the church ever opened, and attempts to reach Boucher have not been successful. The auction is set for 11 a.m. Dec. 20 at 46 Church St.

“We have had what I feel is some great successes, great strides in getting overall visibility for our brand,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of learning curves and a lot of hiccups and roadblocks on the way trying to compete … with some of the bigger contenders out there in hard cider with a product that is hand crafted, small batch.”

The original plan was to open a cidery in the former Church Street church that could produce up to 50,000 gallons of hard cider a year and potentially open a larger production plant elsewhere in the city if demand warranted. By 2015, the company was set to open its main production operation in a warehouse at 650 River Ave. and use the former church property mostly as a tasting room and a place to make small batches of hard cider.

Boucher started distributing cider in February 2016.

At a September meeting, Boucher said the company had undergone a reorganization, letting go of the warehouse production space in south Gardiner and scaling back to his original plan of making small batches of hard cider in the former church.

“It’s been a tough road with distribution, getting out to our target markets that we’re really trying to reach. Now that we have identified them, we have our direction forward,” he said.

He said he hoped to have the tasting room open on Oct. 1.

Boucher secured $240,000 job creation grant and $83,168 in a workforce training grant, both through the Community Development Block Grant program.

Douglas Ray, communications manager for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said Boucher had satisfied the requirements for both grants, by creating seven jobs and providing workforce training for his employees.

Dawne McGrath, who lives next door to the church, said she hasn’t seen much activity in the building. Earlier this year, she contacted Boucher to mow the grass on the site because it was tall enough that she and her husband were having trouble seeing over it when pulling out of their driveway onto to Church Street.

The grass was eventually cut down. McGrath said she contacted Boucher a second time in October to cut the grass again, but she said she never heard from him.

In August, Boucher appeared before the Edgecomb Planning Board to seek approval for a change of use on a retail space on Route 1 from a martial arts studio to a medical marijuana care-giving center that he and Tony M. Casella planned to operate. Downeast Medicinals opened in September, but Casella said Friday Boucher was never a co-owner and he’s no longer with the business.

Boucher first saw the vacant church in 2013, and he sought city permission at that time to open up his business in high-density residential zone on the edge of Gardiner’s downtown neighborhood. Elected officials had put in place an ordinance that would allow older buildings like schools and churches in residential neighborhoods to be used for approved commercial purposes.

If the former church sells, the new owner will have to abide by all the same approvals and conditions and amount of traffic that have been approved under the Adaptive Reuse Overlay District created for the building.

Barb Skelton, code enforcement officer for Gardiner, said the new owner could convert the building to allowed or permitted use with review; otherwise, any other proposed use would require Planning Board and City Council approval.

McGrath said the vacant church could be put to a number of uses, including a shelter for homeless Gardiner teens or medical offices.

“There are a lot of possibilities, but I don’t envy anyone taking on that building,” she said. Strong winds have blown shingles from the roof on to her driveway, particularly during the late October storm that knocked out power to thousands across Maine.

Under the terms of the auction, bidders are required to deposit $5,000 via a cashier’s or bank-certified check payable to Keenan Auction Company to register to bid, and the property will be sold to the highest bidder, who will be required to close on the property by Jan. 19.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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