PRLT has called the venerable McLellan House home since 1988 when the Town of Gorham offered it on a no-cost lease which allows the land trust to occupy a portion of the building and sub-let the rest, with all proceeds applied to upkeep and utilities. Last spring, in accordance with the lease, the land trust approached the Town citing an estimated $170,000 in necessary repairs that were beyond its financial reach. In response, the Town Council allocated $29,900 toward repairs.
Hoping to find a way to renovate, not simply repair the building, the land trust engaged Christopher Closs of Maine Preservation, an organization devoted to the restoration and renovation of historic buildings in Maine. According to Mr. Closs, when needed maintenance of historic buildings is deferred, there comes a point when the cost of renovation rises sharply and renovation becomes prohibitively expensive. McLellan House has not yet reached that point, he says, but necessary maintenance continues to be deferred.
McLellan House is a registered historic building in a designated historic district of Gorham. Mr. Closs advocates a plan under which such structures in Maine can be granted federal and state tax credits totaling up to 45% of the costs of renovation. Such tax credits are negotiable in financial markets. The terms of these programs require the owner of the building to be a for-profit entity. Neither the Town nor PRLT is eligible. At the December meeting of the Town Council, PRLT recommended the adoption of such a program, conveying Mclellan House to a for-profit entity to do the renovation. The proposal went to workshop where it was favorably received and it is on the Council agenda for February 3, 2015.
If the Council adopts the proposal, the Town will be seeking a commercial entity to acquire McLellan House, renovate it and return it to a remunerative use that would make McLellan House a taxable property for the first time in many years. PRLT has conferred with Gorham resident Sylvanus Doughty, Architect, who is certified in the restoration and renovation of historic buildings. He is prepared to assess what is needed to meet the outcome desired by the renovator, and ensure that the renovation conforms with federal standards under which the tax incentives apply.
This recommendation by the land trust, if adopted, will bring new life to McLellan House and enhance the Historic District of South Street. It will relieve the Town of a maintenance responsibility which is currently lagging. And it will bring the property onto the tax rolls. Only the land trust stands to lose if this plan is adopted. “At a time when PRLT is booming, this may cost us our home in the center of Gorham,” says Michael Parker, PRLT board president, “but the community benefits far outweigh our potential loss. We’ll find a new home if we need to.”
Parties interested in bringing new life to the venerable McLellan House using tax credits as an incentive may notify Gorham Town Manager, David Cole. Anyone knowing of affordable office space in the PRLT service area may write the venerable land trust at PO Box 33, Gorham, Maine, or at info@prlt, or may call the board president at 893-1627.