Demolition crews began working to take down buildings on Washington Street in Belfast in December 2015. The large, now-vacant lot has been purchased by a Islesboro-based couple. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — A couple with deep Islesboro roots earlier this year purchased more than an acre of undeveloped land in downtown Belfast. It’s the fifth purchase of in-town property they’ve made in recent years.  

Some city officials believe that makes Alex and Kendra Brigham people to watch in terms of potential future development.  

But Earl MacKenzie, agent and property manager for the Brighams, said that the couple is in no rush to figure out what to do with the Washington Street lot.

Any development there will need to include a lot of input from Belfast officials, he said.

“He just really likes Belfast. He wants to see the character stay the same,” MacKenzie said of Alex Brigham. “He doesn’t want to see some big developer come in and really start going crazy. We actually bought some of these out from under developers.”

The Washington Street property was last owned by Diane Bergey and her mother Eunice Palmer, the longtime owner of the Home Supply hardware store who died in 2019. Previously, the vacant space had been home to a blacksmith shop, a car dealership and a coal gasification plant. In 2015, Palmer and Bergey began a demolition and cleanup project on it to make it ready for development to happen one day.

Other Belfast properties the Brighams have bought since 2018 include a vacant lot at the corner of Main and Cross streets, the former Logos building at Main and Church streets, the former Em Bee Cleaners on Church Street and 132 Church St., where Edward Jones is located.

The couple’s recent spree of real estate purchases is noteworthy, according to city officials, including City Councilor Mike Hurley. Other individual landowners like Penobscot McCrum own more acreage in downtown Belfast, but the fact that the Brighams have quietly purchased so many individual properties in the past few years means that they may be important in terms of how the downtown will be developed.

“There’s no doubt about it — this makes [Alex Brigham] a major influence and player in the downtown, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Hurley said. “He seems interested in doing good work, and that’s exciting and interesting.”

The couple purchased four of the five properties for a little more than $3 million. The city assessor’s office does not yet have the purchase price information available for 132 Church St., which was recorded last month at the Waldo County Registry of Deeds.

The Brighams like to keep a low profile, MacKenzie said. Alex Brigham is the executive chairman and founder of Ethisphere, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based company that defines and measures corporate ethical standards. Although the couple doesn’t live in Maine full-time, they are summer residents of Islesboro, where Alex Brigham’s family has been coming for nearly 150 years. The Brighams care a lot about what happens in this part of Maine, according to MacKenzie.

“They’re extremely nice folks. Very civic-minded, I guess I’d say, and the character of the city is very important to them,” he said. “These are all long-term legacy projects. Nothing for the short-term.”

Efforts to speak with the Brighams were not immediately successful.

The couple first purchased the vacant lot at 40 Main St. four years ago for $175,000. It remains open space, and the couple has given permission for groups such as Our Town Belfast to use it as a site for the Ice Festival.

“They’re not developers,” MacKenzie said of the Brighams. “If he was in it as a developer, he wouldn’t be leaving that lot at the base of Main Street empty.”

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

But the couple do have big plans for a more recent purchase — the former Em Bee Cleaners property, which they bought for $275,000 last September. The three-story wooden building, which had been vacant for many years, was taken down in December. In its place, the Brighams plan to build a two-story building with office space available on the first floor and two apartments on the second floor.

“It’s going to be quite a nice building,” MacKenzie said. “I think it’ll be really pretty.”

One planned feature of the new building is a time capsule. For it, the developers plan to ask high school and college students around the state questions about science, social media, climate change, social issues and more. They will put the answers in a hermetically sealed 48-square foot vault set in the floor, MacKenzie said.

“It’s going to be kind of interesting. I think it’ll be a thing that will bring people together in the state,” he said. “These questions will make people think.”

MacKenzie said that contractors are slated to work on the new building all winter, with the hopes of completing it by next summer. That is by far the biggest project on the horizon, he said, with upgrades planned for the other buildings as needed. The Brighams are in no hurry to make changes, including at the Washington Street lot.

“There’s no immediate plan. Whatever is done, it will be done for the long term benefit of the city,” he said. “We’re not going to come in and put a great big long set of condos in there. No, that’s not the intent. We like open space a lot, and we like green areas that people can enjoy.”