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ARMORY - Interest growing

South Portland residents told their city council to buy the armory property at the base of the Casco Bay Bridge, leading councilors to decide to bid on the building, in what one local newspaper alleges was a secret meeting that might have violated the state's open-meeting law. And during Sunshine Week, at that!

Mayor Maxine Beecher apparently told the Forecaster that the city would bid on the armory March 22, during a hearing before a federal bankruptcy judge. That hearing was set to keep the sale process moving along for the building, which is the chief asset of the Museum of Glass and Ceramics, which entered bankruptcy during a legal dispute with one of its chief donors. (See "Armory Arts Center," by Jeff Inglis, January 6.)

The Children's Theatre of Maine has expressed interest in the building, and a group of investors calling themselves RBA South Portland has indicated to the Current that they will be willing to counterbid. The minimum next bid would be just shy of $650,000, and following bids would have to be in increments of at least $5000.

Nobody is talking amounts yet, though critics of the city's plan to bid say it would be excessively expensive to refit the building, which could be used for any number of purposes, including for a new city hall, a public works building, or a centralized emergency-dispatch center.

And the Children's Theatre group has also amended their offer to buy the property to include a condition that the state of Maine release any interest it may have in "Hanson Street," an area marked on developers' maps as directly adjoining the armory, but which was never built out as a road. That effectively gives the group yet another possible exit from the deal, if it turns sour even after the March 22 hearing, which is supposed to be the "final" one on the property.

The group can already back out of its $625,000 offer without penalty if a building inspection comes back with results the group does not like (an easy claim to make in a building that has lain vacant for nearly a decade and which has no heating system installed, a couple of roof leaks, and broken windows); if the group cannot get city approval for its plans; if environmental conditions on the site are undesirable; and if the group cannot reach agreement with Central Maine Power to allow parking on CMP land next to the armory.

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