HALLOWELL — City Councilors were poised Monday night to approve a request for proposals as Hallowell officials explore potential uses for the Second Street Fire Station.

City Manager Nate Rudy said about 15 people attended a two-hour workshop Saturday to discuss the building’s future.

At the workshop, the council held two informal votes — one showing the council does not wish to move the Police Department into the building and the other directing city staff to send out a request for proposals for the building.

Those informal voted were likely solidified with action at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

The City Council was still discussing other agenda items at press time Monday, but earlier in the meeting has expressed that action would likely be taken after an executive session on a real estate matter.

Councilors voted 6-0 in another informal poll asking if they favored directing city staff to prepare a request for proposals with minimal agreements or restrictions.

At a Jan. 27 public hearing, resident Earle Shettleworth recommended the city seek proposals for possible uses for property, rather than just selling it to the highest bidder.

City councilors who were once supportive of moving the city’s Police Department into the Second Street Fire Station have cooled to the idea. Rudy said councilors, in an informal straw poll Saturday, voted 4-2 against moving the Hallowell Police Station to the building.

In March 2018, the Kennebec Journal reported the City Properties Planning Group unanimously recommended moving the Police Department to the first floor of the Second Street Fire Station. Mayor Mark Walker said in January the city was using $800,000 as a figure for the entire project.

Councilor Kate Dufour said the council should “codify” the aforementioned straw poll decisions with an action item at Monday’s meeting.

In May 2019, councilors approved $2,750 for a commercial appraisal of the former fire station by Gorham-based Maine Valuation Co. That appraisal, received in December, showed the building to be worth $300,000.

Rudy said properties with fewer restrictions on development usually fetch more proposals or higher bids.

Rudy also said suggestion of using the space for a restaurant or as a mixed-use commercial and residential property have also come. He said any “more-robust use of the building” could put a strain on parking downtown, but it was a “much bigger conversation that goes beyond just the use of a single building.”

He said the city could also benefit from the station’s historical architecture, which could be featured alongside Second Street’s other architectural assets, including the Row House and Hubbard Free Library.

The building is currently being used for city storage and as a makeshift studio for artist Chris Cart. The building features a two-bedroom apartment on the top floor and a historic hose tower.

Former Mayor and state Rep. Charlotte Warren asked that the City Council consider a March 2013 resolution that a former City Council unanimously approved before making any decision. That resolution stated it was in the best interest of the city to “take steps to ensure the fire station building is maintained and preserved for the future … and that it remains under the care and supervision of the city … by ownership or covenant.”

“We, as a council, felt really strongly then that it is a really important asset of the city of Hallowell,” she said. “I don’t know what the right decision is; I feel very married to the idea that we keep it.”

Rudy said the city has received one proposal for the building — for a craft and cultural center — although it did not solicit any proposals ahead of the workshop. That idea was floated by Malley Weber at a Jan. 27 public hearing.

The proposal for  the “Kennebec Craft and Cultural Center” states the project’s vision is “to create afford and secure rental locations for working artists and craftspeople to live, create or offer public workshops.”

The proposal stipulates Hallowell Clay Works, Weber’s Water Street business, would be an “anchor tenant” on the first floor, while the second floor would be an apartment.

According to the proposal, it would be run by a nonprofit and funded through rental income, private donors, personal investments, loans, grants and capital campaigns.

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