BIDDEFORD — The Smith Building, considered a historic landmark in this up-and-coming city, was viewed as an ideal investment.
Dan Botwinik, founder and principal of Cougar Capital Management Inc. in Boston, purchased 145 Main St. — an 18-unit multi-family building with first-floor retail, totaling 13,034 square feet — under the entity Ocelot Operations LLC for $850,000. Vince Ciampi and Greg Boulos of CBRE|The Boulos Co. and Ethan Cole of North Atlantic Commercial Real Estate Investments brokered the deal, which closed June 8.
The property went on the market in early January and garnered a ton of interest, said Ciampi.
"It was very competitive. We probably showed the building 15 times, mostly to investors, both in-state and out-of-state," he said.
The sellers are three investors who owned the property several years, did some moderate improvements, then decided to sell when the Biddeford market began to shift in favor of sellers, Ciampi said.
"The market is in a good place," he said. "It doesn't seem to be slowing down. Large, multi-family buildings continue to get a ton of interest, and the prices are higher than they were in the past."
But prices are still lower than Greater Portland, he said, making Biddeford attractive for investors who see it as an up-and-coming city with great potential for profitability.
BIDDEFORD'S 'MOMENTUM FOR REVITALIZATION'
That was the case for Botwinik, who said he'd been hearing good news about Biddeford from an investment standpoint.
"The community has a lot going for it in terms of momentum for revitalization," he said.
According to a 2015 client spotlight on the website of SmartBooks Corp., he bought his first property in 2005, his second in June 2008 and, by September 2008, he had 50 units under his management and was closing a deal per month. His rapid expansion continued. Today, he manages 500 units in five New England states.
According to a framed history that was in the building's common area when Botwinik bought it, The Smith Building was built "around 1895 by the Samuel Smith family, wealthy Kennebunkport merchants." Smith's Dry Goods was an early department store, selling everything from food and clothing to hardware and farm needs. During World War I, it was Moore's Moving Picture Theatre. "The proprietor, James Moore, was a noted impresario and the first man to bring vaudeville and singer Jenny Lind, the 'Swedish Nightingale,' to Portland," the history says.
For a time, the building was an adjunct to city hall, and a J.C. Penney's store for many decades in the 20th century. It has housed offices for many doctors, lawyers, dentists and the Republican Club.
"When Green Shoes next door burned around 1976, it was replaced with Shevenell Park, making the Smith Building a freestanding landmark," the history says. "Some of its bricks that were heat-warped in that fire are visible above the park benches. Immediately behind the building is the Palace Diner, widely recognized as the oldest diner in the Maine."
"I'm excited to have the opportunity to get involved in the property," said Botwinik. "It's definitely a cool old building, with a lot of history and character."
This is Botwinik's second purchase in Maine. He bought a similar mixed-use building, on the National Register of Historic Places, in Rumford.
"That's our niche," he said. "We do other things as well. But we purchase buildings that are, in one form or another, in distress, or where we can get value in good locations. In this case, the building doesn't need much work. It's in pretty good shape."
The Smith Building's residential units are fully occupied, and Ciampi is currently marketing the retail space for Botwinik.
Over time, said Botwinik, he plans to make some upgrades to the residential units, which are a little dated, as they turn over.
"We won't go for luxury apartments to try to compete directly with the mills, but we'll make upgrades" — things like nicer appliances, replacing kitchen linoleum with tile and installing high-efficiency water-saving devices, he said.
The 4,000-square-foot retail space, big and bright, is already nicely set up and includes a mezzanine.
"It's a large and flexible space," he said. "It's a better space than a lot of available retail spaces on the market."