Biddeford’s iconic City Hall clock tower has been selected to compete for a national historic preservation grant.

The aging landmark, which the city has struggled to repair and maintain, is one of 20 historic downtown sites around the country chosen to compete for $150,000 grants to be awarded by Partners in Preservation, a collaboration of American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Ten winning projects will be selected by voters who choose their favorite projects online. Voting begins Monday and continues for one month.

“By winning these grant funds, we’ll be able to work with the city of Biddeford to return the clock to working order and rebuild the four faces of decorative work,” said Delilah Poupore, director of Heart of Biddeford, a local nonprofit that works to support Biddeford’s Main Street.

Heart of Biddeford applied for the Partners in Preservation grant. It also has received an initial grant of $20,000 to increase public awareness of the importance of the clock tower and build support for the Main Street district.

The condition of the historic clock tower atop City Hall has been a concern of city officials for years, but they have so far been unable to sell residents on the need to repair it and fund other upgrades in the 124-year-old building. Voters rejected referendums to fund the work in 2007, 2012 and 2015.

City officials in the past have estimated it would cost at least $1.8 million to fix the clock tower.

“What would those city fathers who oversaw the rebuilding of this facility in 1895 think if they saw the clock tower today in such a condition of disrepair?” Mayor Alan Casavant said during a news conference Monday. “It is time that we embrace that historical pride and do what needs to be done to resurrect the tower to its former glory.”

Communities chosen to compete for the grant money include large cities such as Chicago and New York. Biddeford is one of the smallest cities selected for the competition and is the only community in Maine in the running.

After registering on the contest website – www.voteyourmainstreet.org – supporters can cast as many as five votes for the project each day between Sept. 24 and Oct. 26.

The push to invest in City Hall comes as the city is experiencing a surge of investment in the downtown, where former textile mills have been converted into housing and businesses ranging from artists’ studios and restaurants to light manufacturing. The city has been improving sidewalks and crosswalks and adding more flowers downtown.

The budget for capital improvements was often the first to be cut in years when councilors struggled to keep the municipal budget in check, but city officials say it is time to invest in City Hall.

“The building is symbolic of who we are as a community,” Casavant said. “Back in the 1890s, the people of Biddeford saw fit to construct the building in the grandeur that it is and add a theater for the culture and arts. It’s only appropriate we continue that tradition of pride in the community.”

City councilors this year identified clock tower repairs as a priority to address and are now exploring possible sources of money to get the work done. The council voted this month to hire Demont Associates to explore the feasibility of using a capital campaign to fund repairs and renovations at both City Hall and the attached City Theater.

Mathew Eddy, the city’s director of planning and development, said Demont Associates will spend the next several months conducting a feasibility study and market analysis. City officials will consider a report from the company before deciding whether to launch a fundraising campaign that could fund repairs to the clock tower, a fire suppression system and new windows in City Hall, and renovations to allow the City Theater to hold more shows.

Biddeford City Hall, listed on the National Historic Register, was designed by noted Portland architect John Calvin Stevens. The granite and brick City Hall was built in 1894 to replace one destroyed by fire. In 2014, Maine Preservation added the building’s clock tower to its annual list of the state’s most endangered properties. The clock stopped working four years ago and decorative railings were removed from the tower when pieces started falling to the street below.

Work that needs to be done to restore the clock tower includes regilding the copper dome, fixing wood paneling and windows on the tower, restoring stained-glass windows, redoing the roof under the bell, and fixing the clock itself.

Voters in 2007 rejected a referendum to fix the clock tower, which had some cosmetic repairs done in the 1980s. After that vote, the city spent $250,000 for short-term stabilization work because rotting debris was falling from the tower and water was leaking into the building. The issue made its way back onto the ballot in 2012, when voters rejected a $3 million bond for City Hall repairs. They again said no to fixing the building when they rejected a $2.27 million bond in 2015. But that 2015 vote was close, with 1,828 residents voting in favor of the repairs and 1,964 residents rejecting the bond.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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