The Augusta Planning Board has tabled a proposal to turn the Olde Federal Building at the corner of Water and Winthrop streets in Augusta into luxury apartments. The board plans to revisit the matter at its Dec. 13 meeting. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — After more than an hour of discussion Tuesday, the Augusta Planning Board has delayed its decision on a plan to redevelop the Olde Federal Building.

Board members had a range of concerns — from plans to develop rooftop facilities including a bar to the potential reduction of street-level retail space at 295 Water St. — that they wanted to see more information on before they make a decision.

The Goldman Group, a real estate development and management company based in greater Boston, has submitted a plan that would convert the historic building’s existing office space into luxury apartments with amenities for tenants and preserve some of the retail space.

Alison Nichols, chairwoman of the Planning Board, said she loves this project on so many levels.

“But we’re being asked to approve something for what people have talked about as the heart of Augusta with not a whole lot to go on,” Nichols said. “We haven’t seen the plans for the bar. We haven’t seen the final plans. I want to say we’re really excited and we really like this project, but I feel like we need more specifics before we say yes.”

The building, located in the Water Street historical district, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Catherine Cobb, secretary of the board, said she’d like to see concept plans about how the developers will fit in what they want — even if it has to change in the development process — and more concrete plans on the rooftop development.

“There are a lot of unknowns and we’re used to having something more concrete,” Nichols said.

Ari Goldman, who presented the project on behalf of the Goldman Group, said the building is under contract right now, with a closing scheduled for mid-January and a deadline for completing its due diligence by mid-December.

“Our goal is to get a sense if this is something the city is interested in,” Goldman said. “Is this something we can feel comfortable and confident moving forward with?”

He said when he first saw the real estate listing, he knew his company had to visit it.

“We were genuinely in awe that buildings like this exist in the area and we could have an opportunity to be a part of the building’s history,” he said.


But he and his partners also have to be realistic about taking on the project.

“We’re a business. We can take on the project only if we can make a profit,” he said. “We can’t operate at a loss.”

These views from the interior of Augusta’s Olde Federal Building at 295 Water St. were included in a city conditional use application. The proposal calls for parts of the building, with 43,710 square feet of total indoor space, to be renovated into a luxury mixed-use complex with 30 residential units and street-level retail space. Photos courtesy of The Goldman Group LLC

As it now stands, the developers are proposing to convert about half of the building into 30 luxury residential units — three studios, 16 one-bedrooms, nine two-bedrooms and two three-bedrooms. The existing U.S. Postal Service office would remain, and other spaces would be set aside for a small grocery store and other retail shops.

While the residential space would only be about half the building’s square footage, several units would be in the flood plain, raising questions about whether they would be allowed.

Other concerns raised among members of the public included cutting off access to the building by converting office space into apartments and adding more market-rate apartments when more affordable housing is needed.

Matthew Pouliot, a state senator and real estate agent who owns and has developed a property on Water Street, said converting the building to residences is the only feasible option.


“I know a lot of people want to see a boutique hotel, but the financing for hotels is abysmal,” he said.

While acknowledging the state has a shortage of affordable apartment units, he said he opted for smaller residential spaces in his own building to keep rents more attainable and he suggested the developers consider that.

“This is a part of rising all boats,” he said. “All housing is good; we’re not picking winners and losers.”

Richard Parkhurst, who has developed two buildings with 19 residential units and six commercial spaces in downtown Augusta, said he’s in favor of responsible development.

“I just want to make this point,” Parkhurst said. “It cost me three times as much to convert an apartment on Water Street as it would for me to build an apartment complex on Civic Center Drive. The cost (of the housing) has to go up, or we’ll continue to have empty buildings on Water Street.”

The board voted to table the issue until the Dec. 13 meeting so the Goldman Group can provide more details about its plans.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.