New owners want to demolish historic Belfast building to make way for development


BELFAST, Maine – A long-vacant old dry-cleaning building in the heart of Belfast has a new owner who would like to demolish the historic three-story structure and build something new in its place.

Seasonal residents of Islesboro, Alex and Kendra Brigham, recently purchased the Em Bee Cleaners building on Church Street, located directly opposite Belfast City Hall. Earl Mackenzie, the project manager for the redevelopment, said the couple are here for the long haul and intend to build a two-story mixed-use building on the site. The current plan is to have retail and commercial space on the first floor and apartments on the second.

“It’s going to be something pretty cool,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very good for the city.

Thomas Kittredge, director of development for Belfast, said city officials were eager to hear more of Brigham’s plans for the building. The 7,900-square-foot timber building was one of the few such structures to survive two fires that razed much of the city in the 1800s, but it experienced a period of decline.

For over 50 years it housed Em Bee Cleaners, but in 2010 the company closed. That same year, the owners of Em Bee Cleaners sold their building for $ 130,000 to the Good Earthkeeping Organization, a California-based environmental cleaning company whose owners said at the time they intended to renovate it.

However, other than replacing old windows, it does not appear that much work has been done and the building has remained empty.

“It’s a global company, and they weren’t able to devote the time they hoped for when they initially bought it,” Kittredge said.

Alex and Kendra Brigham, who recently bought the old wooden building from Em Bee Cleaners, right in Belfast city center, also bought the old brick building Logos Pub which is next door. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

Due to the location and importance of the vacant structure, it has generated a lot of interest over the years. As well as being close to Town Hall, it sits right next to the historic brick building at the corner of Church and Main streets, which the Brighams also recently purchased.

“We have certainly had several dozen parts of town approached, learning about this particular property,” Kittredge said. “This is probably one of the most requested properties over the past decade.”

Since dry cleaners use chemical solvents to clean clothes, questions have arisen as to whether the building and site should undergo an environmental cleaning. In 2018, the building was part of the city’s brownfield assessment program, which is funded and managed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Belfast has conducted an environmental assessment of the site on behalf of the former owners, Kittredge said.

The new owners are working with the old owners and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to mitigate the site, Mackenzie said. The previous owners, the Good Earthkeeping Organization, will complete the remaining environmental work on their own, Kittredge said.

“I think there will be cleanup activities in conjunction with the overall redevelopment of the site,” he said.

Before the Brighams are able to demolish the building, the City of Belfast Design Review Committee will need to review their development plan, which includes the construction of an energy-efficient two-story building in its place.

“They have to decide if they will allow a demolition in conjunction with the redevelopment,” Kittredge said. “It’s the biggest component.”

For his part, Mackenzie said that after years of vacancy, it makes more sense to start over than to repair the existing structure.

“The building is not very good,” he says.

Kittredge said it’s likely a new building will bring the block to life.

“[It would replace] three floors which are completely unused, which generate neither pedestrian traffic, nor economic activity, nor need for housing ”, he declared. “I am certainly excited about the possibility of a redeveloped site. I think it will be quite attractive… I am not afraid that it will not find tenants.

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