This vacant three-story wooden building in downtown Belfast that used to be home to Em Bee Cleaners has new owners. They would like to demolish it and rebuild a two-story structure in its place. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — A long-vacant former dry cleaning building in the heart of Belfast has a new owner who would like to demolish the 116-year-old three-story structure and build something new in its place.

Alex and Kendra Brigham, seasonal residents of Islesboro, recently purchased the Em Bee Cleaners building on Church Street, located just across the street from Belfast City Hall. Earl Mackenzie, the project manager for the redevelopment, said that the couple is in it for the long haul and intends to build a mixed-use, two-story building on the site. The plan right now is to have retail and commercial spaces on the first floor and apartments on the second.

“It’s going to be something pretty nice,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very good for the city.”

Thomas Kittredge, Belfast development director, said that city officials are looking forward to learning more about the Brigham’s plans for the building. 

The 7,900-square-foot wooden building was built in 1905 for Thompson’s Manufacturing Co., which made workingmen’s clothing, according to Megan Pinette, the president of the Belfast Historical Society & Museum. 

For more than 50 years, it was home to Em Bee Cleaners, but in 2010, the business closed. That same year, the owners of Em Bee Cleaners sold their building for $130,000 to Good Earthkeeping Organization, a California-based environmental cleanup company whose owners said at the time they intended to renovate it.

However, aside from replacing old windows, it didn’t appear that much work was ever done and the building has remained empty.

“It’s a global company, and they weren’t able to devote the time they were hoping to when they initially purchased it,” Kittredge said.

Alex and Kendra Brigham, who recently purchased the wooden former Em Bee Cleaners building, right, in downtown Belfast, have also bought the brick former Logos Pub building that’s next to it. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

Because of the vacant structure’s location and prominence, it has generated a lot of interest over the years. In addition to being close to City Hall, it’s right next to the historic brick building on the corner of Church and Main streets, which the Brighams also recently purchased.

“We’ve certainly had several dozen parties approach the city, inquiring about that particular property,” Kittredge said. “It’s probably been one of the most asked-about properties in the last decade.”

Because dry cleaners use chemical solvents to clean clothes, there have been questions about whether the building and site needed to have an environmental clean-up done. In 2018, the building was part of the city’s Brownfields Assessment Program, which is funded and managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Belfast conducted an environmental site assessment on the former owners’ behalf, Kittredge said.

The new owners are working with the former owners and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to mitigate the site, Mackenzie said. The former owners, the Good Earthkeeping Organization, will complete the remaining environmental work on its own, Kittredge said.

“I think there will be some cleanup activities in conjunction with the overall redevelopment of the site,” he said.

Before the Brighams will be able to tear the building down, the Belfast In-Town Design Review Committee will need to look at their development plan, which includes the construction of an energy-efficient two-story building in its place.

“They have to decide if they will allow a demolition in conjunction with the redevelopment,” Kittredge said. “That’s the biggest component.”

For his part, Mackenzie said that after years of vacancy, it makes more sense to start fresh than to fix the existing structure.

“The building’s not much good,” he said.

Kittredge said that it’s likely a new building would bring life to the block.

“[It would replace] three stories that’s being completely unused, that’s not generating pedestrian traffic or economic activity or needed housing,” he said. “I’m certainly excited about the possibility of a redeveloped site. I think it will be quite attractive … I’m not worried that this won’t find tenants.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated when the Em Bee Cleaners building was built.