2010-08-04 / Opinion

Saco should consider profit-making options with old fire station

The City of Saco has an opportunity to use an aging property and turn it into a profit-making venture.

In February, Saco voters approved a $5.9 million bond for the purpose of building a new central fire station. Once completed, the existing Thornton Avenue Central Fire Station will become vacant.

That station includes two buildings ”“ a fire station and an administration building ”“ and the city has yet to determine the property's future.

While no one holds a crystal ball as to what will become of the property, city officials and residents should try and turn the buildings and property into a profitable business venture.

According to Deputy Fire Chief Ed Dube, the current structure is “pretty tired.” City Planner Bob Hamblen also said the station's mortar is porous and having just 1 percent of the building repointed was quoted at $50,000.

It's true that it would cost the city potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the buildings ”“ built in the 1930s ”“ but the potential return on investment could be worth the initial costs.

Some ideas city staff and committees have suggested include selling the property, using it as municipal office space, leveling the buildings for parking and snow storage, and tearing down the garage for parking and using the administration building as a senior center.

These ideas are viable, but city officials must plan with a business-like approach and remember that incurring any upfront costs must only be done with a plan to earn money as an end result.

A parking lot, for example, would make sense only if city officials feel there is substantial need for parking, and if revenues could be generated through fees associated with the lot.

If selling the property is a viable option, then a buyer or group of buyers must be already committed to a sale, especially if part of that agreement includes the city restoring the property with taxpayers' money.

One intriguing venture could be building a Saco fire museum. This would make sense because if a non-profit business and investors could raise money to complete a sale and renovations it would preserve the history of the station and the buildings. The Saco Fire Department has a long history ”“  it was created in 1834 ”“ and many items of memorabilia could be housed in a museum for future generations to enjoy.

Saco has some time to consider its options, but in the end those options must be fiscally responsible and not end up costing taxpayers more.

— Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Nick Cowenhoven by calling 282-1535, Ext. 327, or via e-mail at nickc@journaltribune.com.

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