South Portland armory transformation promises coffee, convenience, karate
The $3.3 million project by Priority Real Estate Group of Topsham is on track to be completed by Thanksgiving and open in December. SOUTH PORTLAND — The art deco-style front section of the former National Guard armory stands out now, after the bulk of the building was demolished this summer to make way for its ongoing redevelopment as an Irving gas station and a convenience store. The pre-World War II brick building with concrete medallions, urns and window accents is visible from Broadway, a main thoroughfare that carries thousands of cars daily past the foot of the Casco Bay Bridge. The $3.3 million project will transform a dormant building into a community marketplace in South Portland. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer “That was our vision for this project,” said David Latulippe, project director. “To preserve and bring the building back to a prominent place in the community.” The former armory had been mostly empty and without heat or hot water since the state closed the building in 1994. The city paid $650,000 for the property in 2006 and leased it for a few years, then sold it to Priority Real Estate Group of Topsham last year for $700,000. Asbestos remediation in the two-story front section started in April. The newer 37,000-square-foot military drill hall and garage was demolished in June. Contractors are now doing site work and rebuilding the interior of the front section, which offers about 4,600 square feet of space on each floor, Latulippe said. The $3.3 million project is on track to be completed by Thanksgiving and open in December, he said. It will have five fuel pumps, a bicycle maintenance rack near air pumps, a parking area with shielded outdoor lighting and landscaping throughout the property, including an evergreen screen to be planted across the back. Vehicles will access the site via Armory Street, which runs along the right side of the building, and Hanson Street, which runs along the left side of the building and requires the addition of a right-turning lane off Broadway. The first floor of the former armory will be leased to the Rusty Lantern Market, a convenience store operated by John Koch of Topsham, who has partnered with Priority CEO Jim Howard in the past on similar projects in Topsham, Brunswick and Portland. It will offer prepared foods, several cafe tables, a coffee bar stocked by Coffee by Design of Portland, free wifi and outdoor seating. The second floor will be leased to the Riverview Foundation, which has operated a martial arts school in Knightville for more than 20 years. Executive Director Andrew Atripaldi had been looking for a new location since selling the school’s present building at 146 Ocean St. three years ago. “We’ve been in the Mill Creek area since 1992 and we had been looking for a new location to upgrade,” Atripaldi said. “We always enjoyed the armory and thought it should be saved.” Atripaldi said he liked the developers’ plan to transform a dormant building into a community marketplace. He’s also glad that the developers will be preserving a significant amount of open space on the 2.3-acre parcel, which is wedged between the city’s central fire and police station and a residential neighborhood. “It was refreshing to see community-oriented spirit in a developer,” Atripaldi said. “It was an ideal fit for our programming.” Atripaldi said the second floor of the armory is being renovated to Riverview’s specifications, preserving original architectural features such as high ceilings and exposed steel beams. The new location also will have twice as much classroom space, a student lounge, a parent viewing area and outdoor training areas. All of which has Atripaldi anticipating significant growth in the school’s programs, which currently enroll 125 year-round students and 120 summer participants. “Our projections are being able to serve double those amounts from the new armory building due to its size, location and design,” Atripaldi said.