The Cony Pride building, as seen June 18, 2019, on Cony Street in Augusta. After years of debating what to do with the deteriorating building, city officials appear ready to demolish it. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — The old “Cony Pride” building isn’t coming down just yet.

Augusta city councilors appeared poised to vote last week to authorize the demolition of the deteriorated and debatably historic building on a small lot on Cony Street. But councilors voted to postpone their vote of the building’s demolition.

The delay happened after three different parties came forward who saw a newspaper article about the building’s proposed demolition and expressed interest in acquiring the building from the city and restoring it.

City officials have debated for years what to do with the deteriorating building, which has drawn complaints from its neighbors about its condition.

The city, according to research for the Historic Preservation Commission, acquired the 25-by-100-foot 111 Cony Street lot from Llewellyn Lithgow, for whom the city’s Lithgow Library is named, and Mary Lithgow in 1866 for use as a fire station site, likely as part of a response to a major fire that destroyed most of downtown Augusta in 1865. A fire station known as Atlantic No. 3 was constructed on the site. Though city officials said they’re not 100% sure that’s the building that remains there today.

Councilors agreed to give the three interested buyers, who remain publicly unknown, four weeks to tour it and decide whether they want to try to acquire and restore it.

“It seems like a number of members of the citizenry have stepped up and said hey we’d like to see something happen here if it is at all possible,” said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins. “I totally understand that this has to come to an end at some point. But it has been a number of years, if there is a viable person out there that could rescue this building, I think it is worth a couple of weeks to see if it could happen. We’ve wrestled for a number of years, two more weeks isn’t going to matter. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. So if there is an opportunity now, people need to be serious, need to step up, and do it. If they can’t, then no one is going to be able to say we didn’t give every opportunity possible.”

Councilors and City Manager William Bridgeo said any potential new owner of the city-owned building would have to demonstrate they have the ability, means, budget, and a plan to restore the garage-like structure in a reasonable period of time.

“If someone is truly interested and wants to purchase the building, being able to have some safeguards and caveats in place so it doesn’t just sit there, and having the capacity to make sure it actually gets done, I think would be some of the conditions before selling it,” said At-Large Councilor Raegan LaRochelle.

Bridgeo said he has doubts the interested parties will still be interested after they get a closer look at the building and its problems.

“I’m not convinced anybody, once they go through it, is going to be interested in following through,” Bridgeo said. “The building is really in very, very rough shape and it’s going to cost a lot of money to do anything with it.”

A review of the structural integrity of the vacant building commissioned by the city in 2019 determined it is in poor condition and would need to be structurally stabilized to be put back into use. Stabilizing the 26-foot wide building, which sits on a roughly 26-foot-wide lot, would cost an estimated $132,000.

Later in 2019 the city sought proposals to acquire the building and repurpose it, but received no proposals.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission reviewed the property, as part of the city’s demolition delay process, and determined no delay was necessary and that the building may be demolished.

The commission, according to Development Director Matt Nazar, could not confirm that the current building is the same one constructed as a fire station there around 1870. Nazar said old photographs of the old fire station show a building with a peaked roof, a different set of openings on the first floor, and no brick facing, unlike the current building. However, he noted it could be the original building was renovated at some point.

The 1930 city annual report noted the station was in need of renovation, which may have been when the building was renovated into its current appearance.

By the mid-1960s, the building was used by the University of Maine at Augusta. Later, Cony High School, which at the time was across the street, held computer classes in the building. It was later occupied by the Cony boosters, which is when it gained the “Cony Pride” sign on its front. It was most recently used for storage.

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