Oped by Tom Niemann of Niemann Capital

August 21st, 2012
Developer Tom Niemann stands in front of the Arsenal Complex in Augusta, Maine, in October of 2011 after he took part in a fall clean up of the complex. He purchased the property from the state in 2007 and says he is dedicated to ensuring the complex is redeveloped. Photo by Ramona du Houx

I should have been in better communication with the state since our April meeting. I became so wound up in my meetings with potential developers in Maine, who are interested in the Arsenal complex, I unconsciously assumed that the state would know about our meetings. This miscommunication led to Alan Henry’s announcement that the state may take the properties back. As these negotiations are exactly what the state asked me to do, it would be counterproductive for the Attorney General to take action.

Since the Kennebec Journal’s article, I have been in constant contact with Alan, the director of special projects at the Bureau of General Services, so we can find a permanent solution for the Arsenal redevelopment, working together. All this has taken and will take more than the 45 to 60 days the state gave me in April. The complex has eight buildings.
A historic munitions building at the Arsenal Complex in Augusta Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The historical significance of the Arsenal buildings, constructed during the northeast boundary controversy, can’t be underestimated. The masonry — the craftsmanship is outstanding. The Arsenal is the most intact early-nineteenth-century munitions depot in the U.S. I’m determined to work with developers who are as passionate as I am to retain the historic value of these properties. I’ve been in direct talks with two such Maine developers. We’ve had four productive meetings and are continually on the phone. It would be great to transfer the property to someone who is from here, understands the historical significance, and has been successful with other Maine ventures.

Today it’s a lot easier to redevelop Maine’s amazing historic buildings, because of the changes to the historic tax credits, which I worked directly on with the governor, the Legislature, and local officials in ’06–’08. It took three different pieces of complex legislation. I spent so much time here advising and advocating for these bills, my wife was convinced we were going to move here!

The effort was well worth my time, for these laws have proven to be significant. Developers now have an even playing field to work, redeveloping historic properties. Before, it was not cost effective; frankly, it was easier and more profitable to build something new.

Maine’s downtowns are beginning to flourish with redevelopment projects, because of these tax credits. That’s why developers are interested in the Arsenal complex. That’s why I feel certain I have made the connections to successfully move this project forward.

I’m grateful for the state selling the historic properties for $280,000, with an agreement of future payments amounting to $425,000 when additional building permits are pulled. The improved upkeep of the property has been ongoing since last October, and I’ve hired a caretaker — who successfully pursued a vandal, which led to the perpetrator’s arrest. We’ve worked extensively to make buildings ready for any potential commercial leasing prospects. On July 4th, hundreds watched fireworks from the Arsenal’s riverfront.

The renovation of the Hathaway Center in Waterville, Maine, was a $32 million project Tom Niemann made happen.He helped create historic tax credits and is co owner of the project. Photo by Ramona du Houx

When I first came to Maine in 2003, I fell in love — with its downtowns, its community life, its natural beauty, and its wonderful people. I’m invested in Maine emotionally and spiritually, not just financially. I have a track record here: the Hathaway Center, which was in disrepair when we purchased it. Now we have 67 rented loft apartments. MaineGeneral Heath, Unique Designs, HealthReach Network, HealthReach Community Health Centers, TD Insurance, Nalco, and Cengage Learning are tenants. We hold community events at the Center and work with Waterville Main Street.

The Hathaway Center is a successful development, and my signature redevelopment in Maine.

Niemann Capital pioneered a model of tax credits and HUD financing that is now being used throughout the country. We partially own five historic properties, two in Maine. Renovating historic buildings has given me the opportunity revitalize downtown communities in Missouri and North Carolina. We are making a difference in Waterville.

I want to return the glory to the Arsenal’s riverfront buildings in a similar way, working with other Maine developers, the state, and the city of Augusta.

I’d like to thank the community of Augusta for their continued patience. Finalizing anything in real estate of this magnitude takes time. Please rest assured we are making every effort to find an acceptable solution for the entire complex. Our sleeves are rolled up, and we are working with all interested parties. The Arsenal project will be successfully redeveloped.