Chris Rhoades, one of the owners of the Time & Temperature Building on Congress Street, says the Portland Museum of Art’s plan for the building at 142 Free St. could jeopardize the historic tax credits needed for 250 affordable apartments in the well-known high rise, seen at left. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

An owner of the Time & Temperature Building says the Portland Museum of Art’s plan to tear down the former children’s museum could jeopardize historic tax credits needed to build 250 affordable apartments planned for the iconic high-rise.

The museum disputes the claim that allowing the building’s demolition would affect the federal certification of the Congress Street Historic District, which enables buildings within it to receive tax credits for their rehabilitation. Neither city nor federal officials have provided a definitive answer.

The Portland Museum of Art is asking the city to remove a historic designation that protects the former Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine from demolition. Tearing down the building at 142 Free St. would allow the museum to proceed with a sweeping new expansion on that site. Two city boards have said that the historic preservation ordinance doesn’t allow the change, and preservationists have warned that allowing the museum to proceed would set a negative precedent.

The Portland City Council will have the final say. On Monday, a majority of councilors signaled their support for the museum’s application, but they postponed a vote for two weeks to get input from the city attorney. Their decision will determine whether the museum can proceed with its $100 million capital campaign as planned or has to come up with a new design.

Now, a new concern has surfaced.

“A vote to approve this by the City Council would put in jeopardy the proposed transaction with a local developer that has the building under contract to develop a project for 250 affordable homes at the Time & Temperature building,” owner Chris Rhoades wrote in a letter to the Portland City Council on Monday. “Said another way, Portland’s largest 100% affordable project, 250 units, would be at risk. Without tax credits, the project never gets done. Without certainty that the tax credits will remain in place, no developer will spend money to move the project forward.”



The building at 142 Free St. is considered a “contributing” structure to the surrounding Congress Street Historic District, which means it cannot be razed. The city designated the district in 2009, and the National Park Service certified it in 2010. Both the federal and state government offer tax credits to help finance the rehabilitation of historic buildings in nationally certified districts.

Buildings in a historic district are classified as landmarks, contributing or noncontributing. The Congress Street Historic District has 147 landmarks, contributing structures and sites. Another 51 are noncontributing.

The 14-story Time & Temperature building at 477 Congress St. is a contributing site to the district. Rhoades and his business partner, Drew Preston, bought the building in 2019. They have considered multiple options to bring the vacant icon back to life and been under contract to sell it more than once, but none of those plans has come to fruition. Last year, Maine-based GreenMars Real Estate planned to buy the building and turn it into a hotel, restaurant, retail space and residential units. But the developer said it left the project to focus more on housing development.

“We now sit here in May 2024 with a building that’s been empty for five years, and costs make it prohibitive to renovate,” Rhoades said.

Recently, the owners entered a contract with a local developer who wants to build 200 to 250 affordable apartments in the building. Rhoades declined to name the developer and said he does not know the total budget for the housing project. But he said federal and state tax credits combined could cover up to 55 percent of the cost.


“This project will sit here vacant for the rest of its life if there’s not tax credits to get it across the goal line,” he said.

Consultant Scott Hanson worked in the Portland Planning Department and had a direct hand in the development and certification of the Congress Street Historic District, and he is advising the project team on historic tax credits. He pointed to a May 2010 letter from the National Park Service, which oversees the federal tax credit program. The letter informed the city that the park service had certified the local district.

“Please be aware that changes to the historic district as presently certified will render its certification null and void and will require recertification of the revised district for continued benefits under the above laws,” the letter said.

The Portland Museum of Art wants to tear down the former Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine to make way for its planned renovation, but needs the city’s approval first. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Hanson said in an interview that changing the status of 142 Free St. from contributing to noncontributing would render the district “null and void” as stated in the letter. Based on his own experience with historic districts, he said, he does not believe the National Park Service would recertify the Congress Street Historic District if the building is demolished.

“Municipally approved demolition of a structurally solid and easily reused contributing building is going to be considered a significant change and clearly at odds with the purpose of the certification,” he said.

Rhoades and Hanson said the Time & Temperature building does not qualify to be a national landmark on its own, which could also unlock historic tax credits, because the inside has been significantly changed over the years. So its location in a certified district is key. They are also worried about the precedent the City Council might set if they approve the change for 142 Free St.


“The Time & Temperature building or hundreds of others fall into that same (contributing) classification,” Hanson said. “I don’t see how the city closes that door once it’s opened.”


This question came up before the Historic Preservation Board and the Planning Board, which both considered the museum’s application. Neither was able to get a certain answer. A report to the Planning Board said the National Park Service told city staff in February that changing the classification of 142 Free St. “would be considered an amendment to the district and would need to be submitted for NPS review following a final determination by the City Council.”

Mary Costigan, the attorney who represents the Portland Museum of Art, told the Planning Board that she had also spoken with a staffer at the National Park Service who did not believe the change in classification would be enough to jeopardize the entire district. In an interview this week, Costigan said she spoke to Brian Goeken, chief of technical preservation services at the National Park Service, who told her the office typically looks at bigger amendments, such as a change in the boundaries of the district.

“The individual that I spoke to did not seem to be concerned at all that changing the classification at one building in a massive district … would change the certification of that district,” she said.

Costigan said she is not aware in her own research of any district that has lost its certification over a reclassification of one building.


“I think the bottom line is that nobody really knows, and the only information that we have is past practice, and past practice leads us to believe that it won’t impact the certification,” Costigan said.


Goeken did not respond to an email or voicemails Wednesday and Thursday.

Jordan Fifer, a spokesperson for the National Park Service, said in an email that the office is not aware of any districts that have been rescinded because a building changed from contributing to noncontributing status, but those records are incomplete. Fifer could not speak to specific circumstances but said changes to a historic district should be submitted to the park service for review.

“NPS would consider such information as the effect of the change on the descriptive information about the district, the boundaries, the percentage of contributing and non-contributing properties, and the statement of significance and how the district meets the National Register of Historic Places criteria,” Fifer wrote in an email.

Kevin Kraft, the city’s interim director of planning and urban development, said he does not know of any previous reclassifications in the Congress Street Historic District. In the past 20 years, Kraft said, such a change has only happened in Portland twice.


In 2012, the City Council found that a vacant house on Brackett Street should be “noncontributing” because it lacked integrity of design and condition; that demolition made way for a mixed-use development. And in 2020, the City Council decided to reclassify a dilapidated house on Spruce Street because the structure lacked integrity and because of the level of alteration to historic features; a new home stands there today.

However, both properties are in the West End Historic District, which is not certified by the National Park Service. So their reclassification did not raise the same question about tax credits.

“At this time, the National Park Service has not provided an answer on whether this reclassification would impact the Congress Street Historic District’s certification status,” Kraft wrote in an email.

The Portland City Council will take up the application again May 20.

This story was updated at 10:11 a.m. May 24 to correct the reason that real estate company GreenMars did not continue with its plan for a mixed-used project.

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