SOUTH PORTLAND — After several years of planning, a couple of hiccups, and about nine months of construction, the former Maine National Guard Armory will reopen this month as a gas station with an upscale market and a martial arts center.
A soft opening is scheduled for Feb. 10, said David Latulippe, a consultant and a developer with the Priority Group in Topsham, which spearheaded the project.
The armory is at 682 Broadway, between Hanson and Armory streets.
Rusty Lantern Market will occupy the entire first floor, while Riverview Martial Arts will take up the second floor. Latulippe said each floor has approximately 5,000 square feet of space.
The Irving gas station behind the armory will have 10 fuel bays.
Latulippe said the development company kept the original “head house” of the armory, but demolished the drill hall at the rear to make room for two entrances from Broadway to access the re-purposed building,
Latulippe said traffic will be able to turn right both in to and out of Hanson Road. He also said traffic will be able to a make both right and left turns in to and out of the development using Armory Street, which is next to Central Fire Station. Road work on Broadway will add a left turn lane onto Armory Street.
The guard vacated the property in 1996, and the city purchased it for $650,000 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2006, after plans for a museum fell through. In 2011, the city leased the armory to Cape Elizabeth-based Fore River Sound Stage, which planned to use the building for film and video production. However, in 2014, the business owner terminated the lease.
The city sold the building to Priority Real Estate Group for $700,000 in November 2014.
James G. Howard, CEO and president of Priority Real Estate Group, said the redevelopment cost is $5.2 million.
“While providing South Portland with a much-needed convenience store and gas station was the primary goal of the project, having the opportunity to add Riverview Martial Arts, honoring the 133 Battalion and restoring the Armory building back to its glory day was certainly the highlight for all of us involved,” Howard said.
Greater Portland Landmarks considers the project a success story.
Kate White Lewis, the organization’s director of development, said Greater Portland Landmarks added the armory, built in 1941, to its first Places in Peril list in 2012. The list annually publicizes the most endangered historic properties and resources in the region.
“The armory was listed because of its significance as a prominent historic building in one of the major gateways to South Portland,” Lewis said. “It was falling into disrepair, with an uncertain future, and had no historic preservation protections on it.”
It is now the first Places in Peril that has been rehabilitated, she said, with the help of a preservation easement from the city for the facade. “There are certain elements that need to be maintained and not demolished,” Lewis said.
Latulippe said the military added a second floor to the armory and made many changes to the building throughout the years, which means there are very few architectural details left inside.
In addition, the roof was in bad shape and structural repairs were needed to meet new building codes.
“The key was preserving the exterior of the iconic building,” Latulippe said.
Developers kept all the features they could on the brick and concrete, he said, and brought back other features by recasting concrete.
“We tried to make the exterior look like it originally had,” Latulippe said.
Latulippe said the head house and the drill hall, which was demolished, were built as two separate buildings, but were joined together. Some features were saved from the drill hall, including the concrete tank keystones.
The Maine National Guard armory was completed in 1941 and featured art deco architecture.
According to the Greater Portland Landmarks website, the armory was built in the flurry of new government construction following the United States’ entry into World War II, when new shipyards and a steel fabricating plant were built in the Cushing’s Point area for the mass-production of Liberty ships.
Kathy DiPhilippo, executive director of the South Portland Historical Society, said the armory was built to replace one on Monroe Street in Ferry Village. That building was demolished in 1957.
The military vacated the Broadway armory in 1996, and it fell into a state of disrepair.
“The building has not been well-maintained: the roof leaks and the plaster walls are in poor condition; the exterior concrete steps, tower corners, and plinths beneath the stone urns are all deteriorating; the original windows need to be re-glazed; and the metal canopies above the doorways are rusting and peeling,” Greater Portland Landmarks said on its website.
DiPhilippo said the historical society has no official position on the renovated building. She did note that it was far gone on the inside.
“We’re pleased they kept the facade, and people entering South Portland, especially those who have grown up here and are familiar will it, can still see this piece of history,” she said. “The fact that they saved the exterior is pretty cool. At least we have some sort of a historic landmark.”
She acknowledged the area needs a gas station and said historically there were many gas stations nearby, including the current locations of Otto Pizza, Pizza Joint, Red’s Dairy Freeze, Scratch Baking’s new production facility on Broadway, and Bath Savings Bank, which replaced the former Angelone’s Pizza.
The new Rusty Lantern Market will feature a Coffee by Design barista bar; made-to-order sandwiches, salads and pizzas using Portland Pie Co. dough and sauce; a selection of wines; a 140-square-foot walk-in beer cooler; reach-in coolers featuring local craft and domestic beers; a Maine Root soda fountain; a smoothie bar; a breakfast-by-the-pound food bar; indoor seating for 14 people and outdoor seasonal patio seating, and free Wi-Fi.
The store will also sell Maine-made products, including Bob’s Peanuts and Candies, Wicked Whoopies, Frosty’s Donuts, jams, jellies, sauces and other seasonal favorites.
Kerri L. Bickford, a spokeswoman for Priority Real Estate Group, said the market and Irving gas station are owned and will be operated by John Koch, who has leased the property from Priority. Koch owns four other Rusty Lantern properties, in Portland, Brunswick and Topsham.
Bickford said the property will feature extensive landscaping and outdoor seasonal seating on the front patio. A memorial to military veterans is also being planned, along with tribute during Memorial Day weekend.
Riverview Martial Arts
Riverview Martial Arts is moving to the building from space a short distance away on Ocean Street. It will offer martial arts classes to children, teens and adults, as well as adult fitness and stress reduction classes.
Andrew Atripaldi, executive director of Riverview Foundation, said the new space will allow the center to double its programming in the next year.
He said after-school care will be offered, and summer camps will be held on site instead of busing campers to Riverview’s Topsham campus.