A plan is brewing to convert Brunswick’s former Central Fire Station into a new home for Moderation Brewing, affordable housing and a community kitchen.
The town is trying to sell the property at 21 Town Hall Place after the fire department last year moved into its new headquarters on Pleasant Street. Town officials solicited redevelopment bids earlier this year. Portland-based Developers Collaborative and Moderation Brewing submitted the only proposal, which would cost more than $3 million and turn the first floor of the station into Moderation Brewing’s new home, the second floor into five affordable housing units and a community kitchen in the basement. The plan also includes a solar array on the roof, a beer garden outside and electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot. The 1919 brick structure would be preserved, including the three garage bays out front.
“Saving these structures is good for the Maine brand,” said Mike Lyne, director of commercial real estate for Developers Collaborative, which would be the sole buyer of the building. The company is currently negotiating with town officials on a purchase price and the Town Council would have to approve the deal. The council is expected to review the project next month. The property, which sits on about 1.2 acres, is assessed at $523,600.
State Sen. Mattie Daughtry, who co-owns Moderation Brewing with Philip Welsh, said they have been searching for a bigger space. They opened their brewery in 2018 nearby on Maine Street.
“This is something we’ve been dreaming about,” Daughtry said. “We’ve been searching for a place where we can grow our business and invest in our hometown and downtown. It seemed like the perfect match.”
Moderation would move into the station’s 4,500-square-foot first floor, nearly doubling in size from its current footprint. Daughtry said it would allow them to triple brewing production and increase their full-time staff from four to 12-15.
The 2,200-square-foot second floor would be turned into five housing units with shared bathrooms, a kitchen and living space, and be priced as affordably for people making 60% of the area’s median income, according to the proposal. Tenants would pay rent to a limited liability company managed by Developers Collaborative.
The 3,000-square-foot basement would be split between a community kitchen that could be rented out and brewery storage.
Plans call for new mechanical, electrical, plumbing and sprinkler systems and hazardous material mitigation, as the historic building contains asbestos and lead paint. Developers Collaborative would apply for grants and tax credits to help finance the construction.
The Central Fire Station Redevelopment Advisory Committee, formed last year to gather bids for the station’s redevelopment, conducted a survey earlier this year that found citizens’ top hopes for the property were for historic preservation, affordable housing and public/green space.
“This proposal does check a lot of the boxes,” Sally Costello, the town’s director of economic and community development, said. “We’re saving a historic property and bringing a property back on the tax rolls.”
Councilor Abby King, who serves on the redevelopment committee, said she’s excited about the proposal.
“Against the odds, they’ve succeeded in developing an innovative concept that incorporates all the top priorities identified by our community after a thorough and robust survey: historic preservation, affordable downtown housing, green space, and a new commercial property on Brunswick’s tax rolls,” King said. “I’m thrilled to have such an experienced and locally based team committed to this project, and I’m confident this is a worthy investment in Brunswick’s future.”
Councilor Steve Walker, who also serves on the redevelopment committee, said he doesn’t support the plan and would prefer to see the station converted into solely affordable housing.
“That is much more in line with current town priorities,” Walker said. “We’ve heard about the need for legitimate affordable housing in the downtown. Sure, this project would get the property on the tax rolls … but that’s minimal compared to the public benefit of real affordable housing downtown.
“This is the last piece of developable, town-owned land downtown. We’re being pretty shortsighted to go with the one proposal that came in the door.”
Walker said he spoke with potential applicants who were dissuaded from submitting a bid due to the project’s goal of preserving the building. He noted that about two-thirds of respondents to the committee’s survey were OK with complete or partial demolition.
“We should have paused the process then and re-evaluated what we’re doing,” he said. “Instead, we jumped on the bandwagon with this one proposal. I feel personally this is not the best use of that land or public resources.”
The Brunswick Housing Authority explored trying to turn the station into 50-60 units of affordable housing, but Executive Director John Hodge said the property is small and it would require demolishing part of the building and adding two stories. Renovating the building for a half-dozen apartments wouldn’t be cost-effective, he added.
“It didn’t make sense,” Hodge said.
Daughtry said if the project is approved, Moderation Brewing would lease its current location to fellow Brunswick brewery Black Pug Brewing, allowing that business to expand.
“This is a big investment in our town and supports small business,” she said. “This is the perfect opportunity.”