Monday, January 9, 2006

Theater eyes armory

published in the Portland Phoenix

The South Portland armory could become home to the Children’s Theatre of Maine and other arts organizations, if a deal floated earlier this month pans out.

John Kaminski, an attorney at Drummond Woodsum MacMahon in Portland, is representing a group of people who have asked him not to reveal their names, “who are supporters of children’s theater,” and who want to give the kid-oriented nonprofit a permanent home in the building, now owned by the Museum of Glass and Ceramics. The museum is having its assets liquidated in federal bankruptcy court.

The idea is similar to one proposed in the Phoenix (see “Armory Arts Center,” by Jeff Inglis, January 6), which was cited by several sources for this story as a motivating factor for interest in the property.

Pamela DiPasquale, artistic director for the Children’s Theatre, said the group now rents three separate spaces, a 5000-square-foot theater, a 1200-square-foot office, and the “quite big” Levy Day School for summer-only programs. She said the group has been looking to move for some time, and offered $800,000 last year for a Westbrook building ready for the group to move in.

That deal fell through, leaving the theater in its existing year-to-year rental, with options to renew, and ever-climbing rent, she said.

Wednesday, after the Phoenix’s deadline, the judge overseeing the case was expected to approve a process by which the armory sale could be completed as soon as March 22. (The sale needs to cover at least $600,000, the amount of secured debt on the armory.)

On February 1, Kaminski and his group agreed with the museum’s bankruptcy trustee — subject to the approval of the judge overseeing the case — to buy the armory for $625,000. The agreement, which would specifically allow Kaminski to transfer ownership of some or all of the building to the Children’s Theatre, also allowed the bankruptcy court to accept bids from other prospective buyers. Fred Bopp III of Perkins Thompson, the lawyer for the bankruptcy trustee, has asked the judge to schedule a final sale-approval hearing for March 22.

Copies of the agreement between Bopp and Kaminski were sent to others who have expressed interest in the armory, including the Islamic Society of Portland (which could not be reached for comment), developer Greg Boulos (who withdrew his own $625,000 offer for the armory late last year), Portland attorney Larry Clough of Tompkins Clough Hirshon and Langer, and Ted Quinn of Ingalls Commercial Real Estate.

Clough said his client had offered $600,000 cash about six weeks ago, with a quick closing and no contingency for zoning changes on the property, which has some restrictions that could make a commercial venture there difficult. Clough declined to identify his client, and said the person was not interested in entering a bid for more than $625,000.

Quinn said he had e-mailed a link to the Phoenix’s story to an out-of-state client looking to move to Greater Portland. “There is still interest,” Quinn said, though his client, whom he declined to name, would need a zone change, and “the lack of parking could be a big issue.”

Quinn was slated to look at the property earlier this week, but could not be reached before the Phoenix’s deadline.

Attorney Kaminski sounded the way Bopp described himself — “cautiously optimistic” — and said his group is expecting “to get a lot of support from the city” of South Portland, which has itself expressed interest in the building from time to time, and may be asked to grant a zoning change to allow the museum or another group to use the building. City Manager Jeff Jordan did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

And the deal could still fall through, as Boulos’s did — Kaminski has until the end of March to pull out of the deal if he is unhappy with the building inspection, the zoning situation, or a parking agreement with Central Maine Power, which owns an adjoining mostly-vacant lot.