ELIOT, Maine — U.S. Navy officials hosted an industry forum Wednesday focused on redeveloping the former naval prison at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.
Nearly 30 developers and business people from across the Northeast registered for the event, which offered information on the prison, leasing options, timetables and various requirements. It was held at the Regatta Banquet and Conference Center in Eliot.
Prior attempts to redevelop the prison have fallen short, most recently in 2008, but Navy officials are optimistic this time could be different.
“The driver for us specifically has been the fact that we see the navy prison as an icon in the Seacoast community and we would like to see it restored as soon as possible to allow it to be preserved,” said Bill Banks, executive director of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Banks and Gary Dion-Berube from Naval Facilities Engineering Command spoke to media before the event, which was closed to press. It is unknown what potential developers attended the session.
The Navy is once again offering the former naval prison at Kittery, Maine, for redevelopment. No casinos or prisons need apply. (AP file photo)
Redeveloping the 106-year-old prison won’t be easy. It’s been closed since 1974 and has deteriorated significantly in the last 40 years. The building also has asbestos that must be addressed.
It also won’t be cheap. Banks declined to say how much renovations are projected to cost for the 265,000-square-foot building which occupies a prominent spot at the southern edge of Seavey’s Island.
But if the right project comes along, lease fees could provide the Navy with a fresh revenue stream that could pay for repairs, maintenance and upgrades at the sprawling base, potentially reducing taxpayer costs.
The Navy will not contribute money to future renovations, although developers might qualify for state or federal tax incentives, Dion-Berube said. The building qualifies for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and cannot be torn down.
Developers can propose a wide range of projects for the prison building and 11.6 surrounding acres, including housing and offices. But not every project will qualify. Casinos and prisons are prohibited, and heavy industries that produce hazardous waste aren’t eligible, either.
“Let me emphasize that any development of the former Navy prison must be compatible with the shipyard’s primary mission: The repair, overhaul and modernization of naval nuclear-powered submarines,” Banks said.
Security and base access concerns also must be addressed for any potential uses. Those issues will be considered as part of the project review process.
Other military branches and federal agencies opted not to consider relocating to the prison building, according to Dion-Berube.
Wednesday’s event is seen as a first step in the leasing process, which is expected to take at least 18 months. The Navy is accepting proposals for the site between now and July 31. It hopes to choose a development project next fall and begin negotiations early next year.
Based on that timetable, the Navy hopes to finalize the leasing process by the end of 2015. Any future renovations likely wouldn’t begin until after the lease terms are finalized.
“While this is not our first attempt to lease this structure, and although I cannot speculate on the outcome of the process, we are certainly hopeful a compatible use will be presented,” Banks said.