Joel Lefever, executive director for the Museums of Old York, said that the yellow brick administration building on York Street has been sold to a developer and his organization will consolidate its offices at the historic Elizabeth Perkins House. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly

A York property developer has purchased the building that houses the Museums of Old York offices and archives in York Village, with the intent of looking for a tenant partner to develop it in the future. Meanwhile, Old York is planning to move its offices to the Elizabeth Perkins House and its archives to its curatorial center in Kittery by next spring.

The yellow brick building, which sold for $675,000, once housed a bank and has been owned by Old York since 1994. It is a visible part of York Village, which is the very reason James Fitzgerald decided to buy it.

“With the York Village revitalization happening soon, the village is going to be a more livable, more walkable area. Someone may want to be a part of that,” he said. “It’s a great property in a great location, and it’s the right time for the right tenant partner.”

He said he doesn’t have a specific tenant in mind, but is looking for someone “with a successful track record, who maybe is looking for a new location for their business.” He said he is seeing that model play out in another building of his, the old York Beach Post Office that is now being developed into a microbrewery by SoMe Brewing, which is opening a second location there.

The relationship with Old York and Fitzgerald dates back to the sale of that building, which had once housed the curatorial collection before it moved to the old Kittery Family Practice building on Shapleigh Road in Kittery.

Old York can remain in the building until next May, as Fitzgerald’s tenant, although Old York Director Joel Lefever said they may move gradually over the winter months. With proceeds of the sale, the organization will completely refurbish the Elizabeth Perkins House. Work there is expected to top $600,000, said Lefever, as there hasn’t been sufficient funds for the upkeep of the building.

“We discontinued house tours because the wiring was so bad we had to turn the power off” in the 2000s, said Lefever. “We’ve been trying to figure out how we can pay for the renovations. The bottleneck was that we needed to stay in this building until the Perkins House is renovated. Most people who would buy a building would want to start renovations immediately. So it just worked out with Jim.”

Lefever said the offices will be in the kitchen wing of the building, not in the main house, which under terms of Elizabeth Perkins’ will has to remain intact with her collection. The wing contained servants’ quarters, which Lefever said are perfectly sized for offices. The entire building has to be rewired, a new mechanical system installed, and the building renovated. He said, for instance, the kitchen floor has to be replaced, because it’s sitting on joists that are sitting on the ground and are rotten.

When the work is done, he said, not only will be offices be located there but the house itself can open up for tours again. “We have to take care of what we have,” Lefever said. “And having one less large building to maintain will allow us to use that money to maintain the historic Elizabeth Perkins house as it should be.”

When Lefever first announced long-range plans to sell the downtown building several years ago, a number of residents voiced concern about moving the archives out of town. Lefever said he understands their concerns, but said the archives will be going from a 1,200-square-foot space to a 6,000-square-foot space, which will allow for offices for the archivist, processing space outside of the reading room, a larger reading room and better security for rare books and documents.

He said in any typical year, there are 200 visits to the archives, and those include multiple visits by the same person – in other words, not many. “Moving the collection next year doesn’t mean to say that if someone wanted a building in York, it couldn’t come back. We have to take care of what we have. And the collections center is a huge improvement for the archives.”

Lefever said across the country, historical societies are struggling. Old York has been fortunate that Perkins left an ongoing endowment, because “very few museums can operate on the gate and earned income. The wonderful thing is we’re open to the public for everyone to enjoy, but we don’t have enough money to sustain the properties.” He referenced Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, which sold some properties and rented units in others.

“There was huge pushback to that,” he said. “But it comes down to would you rather have a wonderful place people can enjoy or would you rather not have it? This old bank building was never an historic building. So the board’s commitment is to sell non-museum buildings so we could maintain the museum buildings.”

He also said there are relatively few properties in the village, and this sale allows the opportunity “for someone to create something really great in this building.”

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