A Maine Superior Court justice has ordered the building at 235 Water St., right, to be demolished. The structure was damaged in a 2015 fire and has been found to be at risk of catastrophic failure. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

GARDINER — The fire-damaged building at 235 Water St. must be demolished, a Maine Superior Court justice ordered Wednesday.

Justice Thomas McKeon’s decision, reached at a virtual hearing at the Business and Consumer Court in Portland, brings to an end any plans to rehabilitate and save the building that was damaged in the 2015 downtown Gardiner fire.

Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said she’s relieved the court ordered the building to be demolished to protect public safety.

“But there are not winners in this court action. It is sad that the downtown will lose a property in the historic block and (it’s) even harder to see the adjacent property owners suffering real losses because of the building owner’s willful neglect,” Hart said. “It did not have to come to this outcome.”

City officials are now seeking proposals from companies that can demolish the three-story wooden building that dates back more than 150 years in Gardiner’s historic downtown.

But first, said Kris McNeill, Gardiner’s code enforcement officer, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission has to sign off on the demolition. Getting that approval and choosing a contractor is expected to take a couple of weeks.


“We are in a hurry, but it’s not something we can do tomorrow,” McNeill said.

The Historic Preservation Commission is expected to meet later this month.

Hart said the city will continue to work with the court to sort out the cost obligation, as that was not decided on Wednesday.

Building owner David Coulombe made a final pitch to save the structure during his testimony in court, offering to surrender the building to the abutting landowner for $1 so that it could be redeveloped.

“I would love to see the building stay; it’s a historic property,” he said. “I would hate to see the building come down.”

Under cross examination, Coulombe said he had not consulted with an engineer to see whether his plan would work.


The owner of the neighboring building, now known as 243 Water St., is Three Pillar Properties LLC, whose sole member is Terry Berry. Berry is both a Realtor and a Gardiner city councilor.

After he bought 243 Water St. in 2017, Berry invested in demolishing and rebuilding the interior, installing new support structures and dividing the building into apartments on the upper floors and retail space at the street level.

Berry said Wednesday after the hearing that he had been interested in taking on Coulombe’s building and essentially building a new structure behind the existing facade. But he was told if he acquired the property, he’d be liable for the cost of demolition.

If that were the case, Berry said, he said the cost of the project would be unaffordable.

For seven years, the damaged remains of 235 Water St. has stood boarded up with little apparent work being done to stabilize the structure. The building behind the green wooden facade is what’s left of a larger building where the 2015 fire started. Eventually, the portion on the south side of the lot was demolished. And later that part of the lot was sold to the owners of the neighboring property and turned into a patio area for Gerard’s Pizza.

The remaining structure has changed hands several times since the fire, but none of the proposals offered for it progressed past the talking stage.


City officials had commissioned a structural evaluation in 2021 to determine the condition of the building. At that time, Wentworth Partners & Associates of Skowhegan found deficiencies in the building’s structural strength and stability.

At that time, it found the building was a “clear and present danger to the public health and general welfare of the community,” and that “the deficiencies are overwhelming in comparison to the building unit’s remaining or usable stability.”

In January 2022, city officials declared it a dangerous building.

At that time, Coulombe said he was surprised at the decision because he felt the building was salvageable, and he had been speaking to the city’s attorney about his plans to renovate the building into offices.

Earlier this year, after little to no action was taken at the damaged building, Gardiner officials ordered the evacuation of the 243 Water St. property because an updated evaluation of 235 Water St. by Wentworth Partners & Associates found the building to be at risk of catastrophic failure.

Berry said at that time that he had told his tenants in the four apartments and retail space that he would not enforce their leases and was returning their security deposits. There were given a Feb. 8 deadline to vacate.

The 243 Water St. property is expected to remain vacant as the process of demolishing Coulombe’s building moves forward.

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