The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Meetinghouse Lofts Condominiums

In multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, social impact and job creation.

Please join with us in celebrating Meetinghouse Lofts Condominiums.  A conversation with Ethan Boxer-Macomber, Anew Development.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Ethan Boxer-Macomber:   Meetinghouse Lofts is a 19-unit residential condominium project at 341 Pine Street in South Portland created through the adaptive reuse of the former Roosevelt School; a John Calvin Stevens designed schoolhouse built in 1926. Roosevelt School served generations of South Portland school children until it was decommissioned in 1983. Roosevelt was then operated as the private Sprurwink School until 2013.

In 2013, the City of South Portland solicited developers to redevelop the property and selected Anew Development. Anew’s plan called for gut rehabilitating the existing +/- 18,000 s.f building and adding a +/- 12,000 s.f., three-story addition. Anew’s comprehensive redevelopment plan included careful thought and attention to such considerations as, sustainability, historic preservation, economic development, smart growth, and quality architectural and urban design.

Units at Meetinghouse Lofts range from 950 s.f. one-bedroom to 1,150 two-bedroom units and feature such amenities as 12’ -14’ ceilings, quality, modern finishes, fixtures and equipment, storage units, balconies and patios, covered parking, and a commercial grade onsite fitness center.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project?

Ethan Boxer-Macomber:  In 2014, the City of South Portland released a request for proposal for the acquisition and redevelopment of the former Roosevelt School on Pine Street. I had recently struck out on my own to start Anew Development and was, at the time, actively searching for a first project. The City’s RFP was serendipitous. The Roosevelt School opportunity hit all of my project criteria; a perfect smart growth/ infill location, historic preservation, strong market, interesting design challenges, and an appropriate size and scope.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Ethan Boxer-Macomber:   Taking the project from a concept to a construction start had many of the customary challenges and took the better part of two years. The first year was focused on responding to and ultimately winning the RFP, then taking the project though first a rezone and later the site plan and subdivision permitting process. The second year involved developing the marketing plan, raising private equity and securing other needed financing, developing final construction documents and putting the project out to bid.

We owe all of the project’s success to our superlative project team; PDT Architects, Carroll Associates Landscape Architects, Zachau Construction, Bangor Savings Bank, Nancy Field of Keller Williams Realty, the attorneys at Kelley, Remmel and Zimmerman, and accountants at Purdy Powers and Company.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

Ethan Boxer-Macomber:   We ordered the project appraisal in 2014 at a time when the only new construction condominium comps in South Portland were held over from the post-recession period. We were looking at a desirable location, a beautiful property / product and an optimistic sales outlook. In a nutshell, the appraiser was looking backward and we were looking forward. The low appraisal reduced the amount of construction loan financing we could secure and forced us to raise additional private equity which is obviously much higher cost money. In the end, the market was strong enough to support the additional project cost but this was certainly the largest hurdle we had to clear along the way.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

Ethan Boxer-Macomber:  My most valuable learning experience at Meetinghouse Lofts was in the area of buyer customization. In my eagerness to please all of my buyers I readily agreed to some pretty costly and disruptive buyer initiated change orders; e.g. custom appliance and lighting packages, reconfiguration of partition walls, flooring changes, paint colors, etc. Looking back, I underestimated the cumulative negative effect of all of this customization on design and construction coordination, duration, and cost. On subsequent projects, I’ve done a better job of setting clear parameters and drawing hard lines around what can be customized and what cannot.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Ethan Boxer-Macomber:  The project met or exceeded all of its intended objectives in terms of rescuing an historic property in peril, enhancing the neighborhood, achieving smart growth and sustainability goals, generating significant local jobs and taxes, and providing quality new housing units in South Portland. In the end, however, I’d have to say the project’s most ‘notable feature’ is something we hadn’t full anticipated.

Meetinghouse Lofts is now home to 19 households and a truly delightful group 31 people of people who have come together to form a new community. As I’ve returned to Meetinghouse Lofts post-occupancy, I’ve been consistently delighted to see neighbors taking outings together and compassionately supporting one another with everything from pets and parcels to life changes and illness. The residents all express how grateful they are for Meetinghouse Lofts’ physical design and amenities. However, almost to a person, the comment I hear the most is how much they are enjoying being part of Meetinghouse Lofts’ welcoming, supportive, and cohesive new community.

In addition to receiving recognition from MEREDA, Meetinghouse Lofts is also recipient of 2016 Historic Preservation Awards from both Greater Portland Landmarks and Maine Preservation. 

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