Monday, August 27, 2012

Quimby to sell another home based for artists

Press Herald April 5 Quimby to sell another home base for artists As her colony project shifts to MECA, buildings with studios like 769 Congress St. are not needed. By Tom Bell Staff Writer PORTLAND — After merging her Portland-based artists' colony project with the Maine College of Art last month, Roxanne Quimby is now selling 769 Congress St., the brownstone where the artists' residency program operated for less than two years. The 118-year-old building once housed the Roma Cafe Restaurant and the Bramhall Pub. Quimby bought it in November 2010 for just over $1 million. She hopes to find a buyer who can turn the building into a "landmark business" for the neighborhood, such as a sophisticated pub in the basement where the Bramhall Pub operated for 50 years, said Daniel O'Leary, chief executive officer of the Quimby Family Foundation. The buyer wouldn't necessarily be the highest bidder, O'Leary said. "It could be the lowest bidder with the best plan" for the building, he said. Since Quimby's foundation has owned the building, it has been used for art studios and a place to feed the artists. Nonprofits have used it as a banquet hall. The artists lived in an eight-unit apartment building at 727 Congress St., which was owned by Elliotsville Plantation Inc., a foundation affiliated with Quimby. That building was sold in December for $925,000 and is being converted into condominiums. The Maine College of Art doesn't need either building to launch its artists' residency program because it already owns studios and apartments, said Jessica Tomlinson, the college's spokeswoman. Quimby bought the apartment building at 727 Congress St. in June 2010, after abandoning plans to turn the Queen Anne Victorian at 660 Congress St. into an artists' residence. Quimby bought the building at 660 Congress St. in early 2009 for $350,000 but ran into problems, including a fire, preservation restrictions and the city's housing replacement ordinance, which required her to pay more than $400,000 in city fees to convert housing units to other uses. The City Council eventually granted a waiver for Quimby's "project of special merit." Interior work had begun in January 2010 when a homeless man, trying to keep warm but wary of being seen through a window, built a campfire in an interior room. Quimby eventually abandoned her artist-in-residence plan and put the building up for sale. A Freeport developer, Kenn Guimond, bought the building in December for $225,000. He plans to have apartments on the upper two floors and businesses on the ground floor, which includes two protruding storefront windows that were added in 1912 and a third, slightly lower window, added in 1950 to attract the gaze of automobile passengers. The city's Historic Preservation Board reviewed the plans Wednesday. In all, Quimby's art colony brought in 25 to 28 artists before the program ended late last year. In the beginning, Quimby brought in fine artists and craft makers. She later brought in textile artists and fashion designers, who seemed to benefit greatly from the collaborative environment of the colony, O'Leary said. He said Quimby concluded that she could take her idea to the next level by joining with the Maine College of Art. Last month, she gave MECA $400,000 to support artists in residence, new faculty positions, student recruitment, and equipment and resources to begin the program. It will focus on fashion and textiles, with an emphasis on design. The fashion-and-textiles program will begin in the fall with two classes, then expand to a minor study track and eventually a major. O'Leary said he believes that Portland can position itself as an attractive place for people in the fashion industry. He said Quimby's partnership with MECA creates a "synergy" that would allow for the best results with limited resources. City Councilor David Marshall, whose district includes the area, said the partnership is good news for the city, and the real estate deals will have a positive outcome for the neighborhood, particularly the development of the boarded-up building at 660 Congress St. "It looks like as though we are turning a corner," he said. Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at Twitter: TomBellPortland

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