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June 4, 2018

High-profile lot in Bar Harbor snapped up by historical society

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
A vacant commercial lot at 56 Cottage St., in Bar Harbor, was purchased by the Bar Harbor Historical Society for a new headquarters. A derelict strip building here was razed prior to the sale to make the property more attractive to buyers. The Bar Harbor Post Office, a central downtown feature, is across the street.

BAR HARBOR — The Bar Harbor Historical Society's purchase of a half-acre vacant commercial lot in downtown is expected to increase the society's visibility and enable it to build larger accommodations for its growing collections.

The nonprofit is beginning a process of evaluating its options to build its headquarters and museum there, and possibly include other uses such as community space and a gift shop.

The institution paid $1.3 million to buy 56 Cottage St. from Worthy LLC, controlled by Thomas Alley of Bar Harbor. Erica Brooks and Kimberly Swan of The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty brokered the deal, which closed May 22.

"Thanks in no small part to the efforts of our director, Deborah Dyer, our holdings and resources have grown over the past decades and the board decided it is time for us look at a larger home," Swan said in a news release.

Swan is also on the society's board of directors and its designated spokesperson on the purchase.

Outgrowing its headquarters

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
The Bar Harbor Historical Society has outgrown its current quarters, a former convent at 33 Ledgelawn Ave.

"We're busting at the seams," she told Mainebiz, of the society's existing quarters in the former three-story St. Edward's Convent at 33 Ledgelawn Ave., a residential street several blocks from the popular tourist town's busy downtown area.

The society was formed from a subset of supporters of Bar Harbor's Jesup Library in the summer of 1946. Housed in a single room of the library's basement, it moved to the far larger quarters at the Ledgelawn Avenue location in 1997.

But now it's outgrown the Ledgelawn Avenue building. And another issue there, said Swan, is lack of accessibility to the second and third floors.

High-profile Bar Harbor lot

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
56 Cottage St., before its building was taken down, is seen below and just to the right of center.

The 56 Cottage St. lot, located across the street from the town's massive granite post office built in 1909, is one of Bar Harbor's highest-profile lots and was formerly the location of a strip building that housed a variety of seasonal businesses, like a Subway shop. The building was razed in 2017.

There was a lot of potential buyer interest in the property, said Swan, adding that the purchase was owner-financed.

"We'll have to take out a bank loan when we're ready for construction," said Swan. The board has given itself 24 months to identify a design and costs, she said.

"It will take us a couple of years to look at what we're going to do there. It's a huge lot," she said.

What seems to be clear so far, she said, is that the society's headquarters and museum will be there. Other ideas include a community space and a gift shop. And there might be opportunities for paid parking.

"We're forming a committee to look at different options," she said. "We have to explore what's allowed and what would be the highest and best use."

Plus there's a need for climate-controlled archival storage space, she said: "That's one of the things being talked about: How do we make part of this building climate-controlled for any organization that needs special archival storage?"

Plans are in the works to sell the Ledgelawn property, she said. But that's at least two years off, as plans coalesce for the Cottage Street property and for a capital campaign to fund those plans.

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