A landmark Portland high-rise, filled with offices and commercial space for over a century, may have a future as a residential address.
The People’s United Bank Building, at 465 Congress St. overlooking Monument Square, sold in June 2019 to two out-of-state real estate investment groups that have been making improvements and marketing the building to commercial tenants.
But the owners – Alta Properties of Newton, Massachusetts, and Connecticut River Capital of Lebanon, New Hampshire – now have a different use in mind for the 10-story building, according to materials submitted last month to the city’s Historic Preservation Board. The developers outlined plans for 56 one- and two-bedroom residential units on the second through tenth floors. People’s United Bank, which was acquired earlier this year and is now known as M&T Bank, would remain on the first floor.
Preservation Board approval is necessary because the owners are proposing to construct a new, 140-foot-tall staircase at the rear of the building, in order to comply with building code requirements for residential use. Historic preservation staff wrote that the reuse of the upper floors is the “most viable path for the owners,” and the building’s renovation will be financed at least in part by historic tax credits.
When Alta and Connecticut River purchased the property, they envisioned it serving a niche in the market for high-end office space at an affordable price point, with substantial upgrades to the lobby, elevators, exterior and ventilation systems.
But now, that vision may be changing slightly.
Geoff Colla, principal at Connecticut River Capital, said the owners are still seeking commercial tenants, but that progress has been slowed by the pandemic. He added, “We are of course also aware of the urgent need for additional housing in Portland and related concerns that the current lack of housing availability may be impacting the momentum of … economic development efforts. As such, we are also evaluating the feasibility of housing as a use in parts of the building with the City and other local partners, but those efforts are still in very early stages.
The developers will go before the board on Wednesday with their plans for the staircase.
Dating to 1909, the building is a registered Portland historic landmark and was the city’s first “skyscraper.” It stands across Preble Street from another landmark, the Time and Temperature Building, which is being redeveloped as a luxury hotel.
A few blocks away, on Federal Street, developers are planning to construct the tallest building in Maine, an 18-story mixed-use building that will offer first-floor commercial space and 266 apartments. Of those, 27 will be reserved for affordable housing.
The People’s United Bank Building has changed hands numerous times over the years, and was previously known as the Fidelity Trust Co. Building. It features lavish details such as a marble-accented lobby with vaulted ceilings and pillars, ornamental accents on its limestone exterior and expansive views.
‘The importance of this building rests not only on its original novelty, but on the excellence of (architect George Henri) Desmond’s design,” the Portland Historic Resources Inventory wrote in meeting materials. “It is still an important feature of the Portland skyline and a key visual anchor of Monument Square; and it records the commercial history of the city,” it wrote.
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