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June 20, 2016

Conversion under way for Eastman block in Portland

Courtesy / Malone Commercial Brokers
Courtesy / Malone Commercial Brokers
The building in downtown Portland at 11 Brown St., the former home of a Margaritas Mexican restaurant.

PORTLAND — A historic building at 11 Brown St. in Maine's most populous city is on track in its conversion to luxury condominiums.

Portland developer Jack Soley paid $950,000 for the turn-of-the-century building in late 2015 as part of his mission to preserve the city's historic buildings and leverage the condo market. The site will include a ground-floor restaurant, just as the building had until the closure of Margarita's a year ago.

On May 25, Soley finalized the sale of the basement and first floor to Phelps Craig, owner of the BRGR Bar in Portsmouth, N.H. She plans her second BRGR Bar for the Portland location.

In the meantime, Soley and his nephew Dan Soley been investing approximately $1 million to redevelop the second, third and fourth floors into luxury condominiums — two units on the second floor and one 2,400-square-foot unit each on the third and fourth floors.

Since the 1930s, the top two floors had been used for storage. The building is part of what's known as the Eastman Block. Eastman Bros. & Bancroft, a major dry-goods retailer established in 1865, owned several buildings near the intersection of Brown and Congress streets, according to the Maine Historical Society, though it's not clear what the exact use of this particular building had been. The store closed in the Great Depression.

"Eastman" is inscribed in granite on the front of the building and the condos will be called the Eastman Block Condominiums.

"We're fairly far along in our conversion," said Soley. "We just started putting up sheetrock. In early July we'll start installing the final plumbing fixtures, the kitchens, flooring and finishes. We hope to be complete in late July."

The renovation will highlight the building's historic feel and features. The top three floors have ceiling heights of at least 12 feet, which will be preserved. The original huge, rough-hewn floor joists will be visible and the original hardwood flooring is being refinished.

"We'll keep the same large window openings that were originally designed with the building," said Soley. "Once that's all done, it will have a feeling almost like a New York loft space, which will be very unusual for the Portland area. These are unique units that will have lots of historic charm, tremendous ceiling height, huge windows, and a distinctly loft feeling."

The restaurant space has its own place in the city's history. It once housed the HuShang restaurant, which opened in 1979 and was one of the first restaurants to help transform Portland into a foodie destination. HuShang, known as the restaurant that introduced Portland to authentic Chinese food., closed in 1986. Afterward, Margaritas was there for 18 years, closing in August 2015.

BRGR Bar set to open in fall

In a deal that closed May 25, Soley sold the basement and first floor to Craig, who is the midst of design and renovation for her second BRGR Bar. Jessamyn Mackey and Peter Harrington of Malone Commercial Brokers represented Soley in the transaction. Michael Rogers of Maine Real Estate Network represented Craig.

Craig has been in the restaurant business in Portsmouth since 2003. Her previous restaurants included Green Monkey, serving eclectic cuisine, and Brazo, a Latin American restaurant. She sold both of those to start BRGR Bar in 2014.

"I decided to expand the BRGR Bar concept up north," Craig said. "It's behind the Civic Center and near the Asylum [music venue] and right off Congress Street, so the location is great."

Craig expects to invest $400,000 in the build-out and hopes to be open by October or November. She'll split her time between the two restaurants.

"We're excited to do business in Portland," she said.

Read more

Shuttered Margaritas makes way for adult milkshakes

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