SKOWHEGAN — The Kennebec Valley Inn is coming down.

For some, the KVI in the heart of downtown Skowhegan is a historic landmark. To others, it has become an eyesore, the often vacant, faded glory of a time when the railroad trains still came to town.

Now it’s coming down.

The Skowhegan Economic Development Corp. purchased the three-story building for $73,000 last week and plans to tear it down.

“The aim of the board was to buy it, abate it and then remove the building itself,” said Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development and part-time secretary of the SEDC. “SEDC is always looking for projects that make economic sense for Skowhegan — what will have the biggest impact for all of Skowhegan, not just the downtown.”

Hewett said the SEDC hopes to create a new, multi-use building on the site.

The abatement work will include removing asbestos from some of the flooring, from pipes in the basement and from some of the exterior siding on the third floor of the building, all of which legally has to be done before the building is torn down.

The building, owned by Dale and Eunice Thorpe, is three stories tall, with each floor measuring about 10,000 square feet.

Contacted by phone Friday, Dale Thorpe said he bought the building in 1984 and doesn’t have a problem with it being torn down.

“It was just time to sell it,” Thorpe said. “All of our memories are good memories. It will have nothing to do with being torn down. We can enjoy the memories. That’s called evolution. We keep evolving.”

Melvin Burnham, the retired former director of the Skowhegan History House and Museum, agreed with Thorpe.

“As a community person interested in local history, I hate to see our old buildings torn down because they are part of the fabric of our cultural heritage,” Burnham told the Morning Sentinel via social media. “They have stories that inform us of our history. However, unless someone has deep pockets and an interest in repurposing old buildings, they become obsolete and beyond practical repair.

“The historical stories pertaining to this building will have to be shared in a different way and that is why the Skowhegan History House Museum and Research Center is so vital to our community.”

Hewett said the SEDC board has had its collective eye on the building for years, as tenants came and went, offering live music and cold beer on the ground floor.

“This is not something they just thought of two months ago; we’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years,” Hewett said. “It’s been on our list, something that has repeatedly come up in conversation.”

Hewett said inquiries to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in 2015 revealed that the building was not eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The site is not considered sensitive for archaeological resources,” the commission’s Robin Reed wrote to Hewett in July 2015.

Hewett said the facts that the hotel is not in its original location and that a third floor was added later make it ineligible for historic designation.

The site of the Kennebec Valley Inn is the original Maine Central Hotel, which was built in 1904, consisting of a renovated wing of the Heselton House hotel on Water Street, where the Municipal Building now stands, according to material from the Skowhegan History House.

The wing had been moved on logs by oxen to its current location in 1901. The train station and freight yard for Maine Central Railroad was at the rear of the building.

“This site made it convenient for railroad travelers, and it was also near the courthouse and the business streets, so it received good patronage,” Louise Coburn wrote in her 1941 book “Skowhegan on the Kennebec.”

In 1930 the hotel was remodeled as an annex to the New Skowhegan House hotel, which was located where the Chamber of Commerce building is.

The annex was called the Milburn Hotel. It was sold in 1972 and called the Midtown Hotel and kept that name until the Thorpes took over in 1984 and renamed it the Kennebec Valley Inn. The inn later became a weekend dance club called Rumors. It closed finally in 2011.

Marc and Janet Wheeler, of Skowhegan, moved in during the summer of 2013, opening the Blue Moon Lounge on the ground floor. They had a full bar, a large dance floor with live and DJ music Thursday through Sunday, tables and homemade food cooked by Janet Wheeler. The Wheelers closed for the winter in 2013-14 and reopened briefly in the spring 2014, but then closed again and did not reopen.

It remained vacant until Mike Kresge and his wife, Annette, opened a country-and-western-themed lounge and restaurant at the site in 2016. They renamed the place the Kennebec Valley Inn.

The lounge and restaurant was turned into a sandwich shop last year and finally closed in September. The Kresges now run Mulligans Pizza and Subs at Loons Cove Golf Course on U.S. Route 201, Waterville Road, south of Skowhegan.

Mike and Annette Kresge on Feb. 16, 2016, stand behind the bar at the Kennebec Valley Inn in Skowhegan. The KVI is slated to be torn down. Staff file photo by David Leaming

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said she can see the two sides of tearing down the old place.

“That building for some individuals has a lot of historical significance,” Almand said Friday. “However, for others, it is an eyesore. There are differing opinions on that building and I completely understand both sides. I’ll be interested to see what that property turns into.”

The inn building is at the edge of the municipal parking lot next to the working Somerset Grist Mill in the 1897 former county jail and opposite the restored 1929 Strand movie theater. Nearby is the circa 1894 Grange hall, which is being renovated for future use, possibly as a grain-based business.

Amber Lambke, whose purchase of the former Somerset County Jail with a business partner in 2009 resulted in the establishment of the Grist Mill, Millers Table restaurant, a commercial free radio station and other businesses, said she is happy the KVI is coming down.

“I am excited to hear that Skowhegan Economic Development Corp. will help to remove the old KVI building,” Lambke, president and CEO of Maine Grains Inc., said Friday. “The gradual decay of the building has contributed to the blighted appearance of downtown Skowhegan for many years, and yet for private investors and developers, the cost of the purchase and removal of the building has been a financial disincentive to development.”

Lambke said the best use of downtown real estate is business occupancy and she hopes that future business space there will be realized.

“I appreciate the leadership of SEDC to step in to help solve the problem of the KVI in what appears to be a win-win for the owner, the town and revitalization efforts,” she said.

Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan and a member of the SEDC board, said the removal of the building is good news for Skowhegan.

“This is exciting for Skowhegan,” Cannon said. “The purchase of the KVI by SEDC presents an opportunity for further economic development and revitalization of town. The KVI is in the heart of Skowhegan, so we have the chance to really help improve the look and feel of our community by taking down a run-down building and making way for something new. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of what could be erected in that space.”

Hewett said the cost of renovating the building would have been prohibitive. He said it will be better to start over with a new building in place.

Over the next couple of weeks, SEDC will be working on developing a fundraising campaign to help with the abatement and removal of the building, according to Hewett.

“Over the next several months we will be holding fundraisers to help with the projects of the abatement and removal of the building,” he said. “As soon as funds are available, the project will move forward on the abatement and removal of the building.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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