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October 2, 2017
2017 Next honorees

Next 2017: Jim Brady, developer of the Press Hotel, starts a new chapter with Fathom Cos.

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Jim Brady, center, reviews historic plans of the Biddeford Post Office site with Mason Sears, vice president of SF Marina Systems, Carla Tracy of Carla Tracy PR, right, and Debbie Fisher with Fathom Cos., far right, at their office space in Portland.

Jim Brady

President and director Fathom Cos., Portland

Fathom Cos.

80 Exchange St., Suite 30, Portland

President and director: Jim Brady

Employees: 100

Contact: www.fathomcompanies.com

Two-and-a-half years after transforming an Art Deco-era newspaper building into Portland's boutique Press Hotel, developer Jim Brady is tweaking the story line.

The 54-year-old Florida native has teamed up with Press Hotel co-owners Dennis and Chris Ruppel to form Fathom Cos., a 100-employee entity that will operate the Press Hotel with a real estate development arm that Brady will oversee.

"We will look to grow Fathom with other hotel developments and management contracts going forward," Brady says in his Exchange Street office, down the street from the Press Hotel. His desk is surprisingly uncluttered for someone with so much on his plate, including his first venture in Biddeford, as he seeks other projects in Portland.

He's ready to start a new chapter after a four-year push to redevelop the historic 10-acre Portland Co. site at 58 Fore St, successfully navigating the project past neighbors' and preservationists' objections. He moved it forward with rezoning, defeating a city-wide referendum, negotiating a historic district and getting a master development plan approved. With one last set of local permits to get, construction could start next spring.

Looking back, Brady says it may have made sense to reach out to neighbors before buying the land, but the experience hasn't dampened his enthusiasm.

"You have to feel good about what you're doing, and I feel very good about what I've been doing in Portland," he says. "I pride myself on doing good-quality developments that I think are going to be good for this region, good for jobs, and good for growing the tax base."

From sailing to real estate

Property development is a second career for Brady, a former competitive sailor and silver medalist in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, where he met his future wife, Julia, a bronze medal winner that year. The medals, now "tucked away in some drawer," come out for occasional talks to groups like SailMaine.

The couple moved to Yarmouth in 2000 from Auckland, New Zealand, after Brady had competed in the America's Cup yacht race. At the suggestion of his Olympic teammate and Bangor native Kevin Mahaney, Brady switched to real estate and the two started Olympia Development, a Portland group focused on upscale commercial and mixed-use development. Brady served as president for nearly a decade, completing over $200 million in real estate projects, including several hotels, the Baker Newman Noyes building at 280 Fore St., and the U.S. headquarters for the Council on International Educational Exchange Inc., at 300 Fore St.

"I'm proud of those projects, even though I didn't do them on my own, I did them leading the development team," Brady says.

In 2008 the family moved to Bologna, Italy, where Brady oversaw an historic rehabilitation of the Hotel Excelsior Venice and the Grande Hotel des Bains. The project ran into some financial obstacles but nothing like the public resistance against the 58 Fore St. project he would later face in Portland. The family moved back to Maine in 2011, first Yarmouth and then Portland last year.

Brady, who has always loved Portland's connection to the ocean, relishes its historic buildings like the old Press Herald headquarters that he turned into a press-themed showpiece with its artful wall display of typewriters near the lobby, vintage-style writing desks in every room, and cocktail tables emblazoned with historic headlines and news stories. The VIA Agency, where Julia Brady works, helped create the hotel's branding.

"They really helped us think through utilizing the history of the building as the way to tell the story, and that's what newspapers and the media do," he says. Various names were considered, including The Fourth Estate, and he finds it amusing when people call him "the Press Herald guy."

Bullish on Biddeford

Inspired by new investments in Biddeford, Brady recently bought a former courthouse and post office building that he's converting into office space.

"This is a very small project, but I wanted to dip my toe in the market and learn about opportunities that would exist in the general market between Biddeford and Saco," he says. "I am also doing this because it's a really unique asset," a masonry brick and limestone building that "needed somebody to save it." He hopes to be done by next summer.

"I'm not convinced that it'll be the best financial transaction that I've ever done, but I thought it was something that would be really interesting and a beautiful building, and I'm hoping to really bring back its glory."

The move comes amid a flurry of downtown development activity, in an urban revival city officials often call a 'Biddesance.'

"Jim Brady's investment in the old courthouse, in the city's downtown, is another example of an individual who believes in Biddeford's future and who recognizes that the excitement and potential in this community is not only real, but also poised for remarkable, sustainable and creative growth," says Biddeford Mayor Alan M. Casavant.

Brady is also in preliminary talks about building a hotel on Saco Island but doesn't see Fathom "growing too quickly too far afield. We want to continue to stay focused on our core asset, which is the Press Hotel."

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