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Developers envision condos for historic Biddeford building

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Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 5:00 am | Updated: 8:25 am, Wed Jul 10, 2013.

BIDDEFORD – Two men with substantial Hollywood producing and writing credits are among the latest people to invest in a downtown Biddeford property – this one the former Smith Building at 145 Main St.

The historic building sandwiched between Shevenell Park and Franklin Street was built in 1895 and is now owned by a development group that includes Jeffrey Sneller and Mark Lisson.

Sneller, who is the spokesman for the partnership, which also includes his son-in-law James Swaka, has written for and produced shows and movies for Disney and New Line Cinema, such as “The New Adventures of Pinocchio” and “The Dragon Pearl,” with Sam Neill.

Lisson has written for top-rated television shows, such as “MacGyver” and “Bones.” He was also a producer for the movie “Mighty Joe Young,” which starred Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton.

Working together as Maine State Properties, Sneller, Lisson and Swaka plan to turn the upper floors of the building into condominium homes and to lease out the bottom floor for a retail use.

“People see the (former) Smith Building as a wonderful place to live,” said Swaka. “Our plans for the project are to bring it back and make people proud of this iconic address once again.”

Sneller said this week the partners decided to purchase their first Maine property in Biddeford because they felt that the city “was a community with a sense of purpose, spirit and willingness to roll back the clock in order to regain its fading brand. In our discussions with other property owners, bankers and business people, we found a desire to make the necessary commitment to revitalize the town. This spoke to us, as did the building from both an economic and aesthetic point of view.” 

The three partners purchased the building last fall, which Swaka will manage, and are working with Biddeford’s Historic Preservation Commission, the Heart of Biddeford and the planning office on their redevelopment plans.

Sneller said the goal is have the model units and the common areas in the building completed by September. However, he said the development group is about a month away from fixing on a price for the condos, although he did say they would be “affordable.”

He said the three partners had been looking for a property somewhere in the state for more than a year when their real estate agent first brought the Smith Building to their attention.  

“We are always looking for the visual metaphor to tell our story. It is a conceptual landscape and a building is no different,” said Lisson. “Symbolic images help us to understand abstract concepts that cannot always be translated into words and we intend for 145 Main St. in Biddeford to embody all of the poetry of a fine piece of art, an enduring film or a gourmet meal.” 

Sneller said the reason he and his development partners are renovating the upper floors into condos instead of apartments, as is being proposed in most of the other redevelopment projects in downtown Biddeford, especially in the mills, is that “the demographic of condo owners is changing in an unprecedented way.”

He said that no matter their age, their family size, or country of origin, “there’s greater emphasis on downtown living. Echo boomers, baby boomers, immigrants, single households and older people will be the customers (for) our units. (In addition), commuters who want an affordable lifestyle in a vibrant coastal town; Bostonians and others looking for a centrally located, seasonal residence; teachers at the University of New England and young professionals (will all be part) of the mix.”

This week, Sneller would not say what retail operation may take over the 4,100-square-foot space on the first floor, and said that would be a secret until all the pieces are in place.

“(That’s) our next press announcement,” he said.

Sneller and his development partners are also determined to maintain the historic nature of the building, and said it’s important to “understand (the) community’s heritage (and keep) a sense of who we are and where we came from. (The building is) a reminder of the past and our legacy to the future.”  

Equally important, he added, is that redeveloping the building in an historical accurate way “enables us to appreciate the artists and craftsmen of the period, who created those wonderful, enduring buildings, which are rapidly becoming an endangered species. To me and my partners it’s not just sociological, it is personal.”  

The ultimate goal of Maine State Properties is to ensure that each unit in the historic building is redecorated in a unique motif, which will be designed to capture the old world charm of seafaring coastal life for which the area is known.  

The building features vintage hardwood floors, which will be restored throughout. In addition, the bathrooms will be renovated to include ceramic tiles from the upscale Merola Tile, along with fixtures of the period. The developers also plan to bring in imported, artisan-designed, embossed-metal ceilings, which will be custom forged.

“The (condos) are being transformed in more than one way,” Swaka said. “Our design specialists will decorate and furnish each unit down to the linens, and they will be offered as very affordable condominium suites.”  

Delilah Poupore, the executive director at the Heart of Biddeford – the city’s downtown revitalization organization – said she is excited to see another building in Biddeford’s downtown core undergo a historically authentic rehabilitation.

“These developers have worked with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to come up with a concept that will preserve all that’s beautiful about the building,” she said. “And, the remodeled (units) should be a great draw for people from near and far looking for a Maine-paced, urban living environment.”

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