Partnership Aims to Restore Prominent Downtown Buildings

Dave Seavey contemplates the condition of one of the upper-story apartments in the McAlister building. Seavey and his partner, Gary Young, aim to restore it and the Sarsaparilla building to functioning condition. (Photo by Lura Jackson).

 

By Lura Jackson

 

Two of the most noticeable buildings in downtown Calais – the towering Sarsaparilla and McAllister buildings – will soon no longer be catching attention due to the danger and dilapidation they represent. The historic buildings are going to be fully restored over the next few years thanks to a partnership between Dave Seavey and Gary Young. The former Visitor’s Information Center – now called the Waterfront Pavilion – is also going to be restructured as a restaurant by the duo. 

The plan to restore the buildings emerged from both Seavey and Young simultaneously, Seavey explained. The pair were sitting in front of the block one day, discussing the condition of the two buildings. “You can sit and talk about all the grand plans to revitalize Calais – and there are some good ones – but they’re not going to do much if these stores are like this,” Seavey said. “That’s one of the major steps to get people to come in here, invest, and open up stores. It’s worked in other communities.” As the premier large-project brickworker in Calais, Young knew what it would take to rehabilitate the buildings. The two agreed it was something they could accomplish together.

The first goal is to “repair the envelopes of the buildings and make them not look like an eyesore or blight,” said Seavey. Work has already begun on the exteriors of the buildings. Once that’s completed, the interiors will be redone. The intention is to return the buildings to their original design, with retail spaces on the bottom floors and apartments or office spaces on the upper floors.

“It’s not a hard formula to understand. Britani did a fantastic job with her building, and Jake (Frank) Chambers did well with his,” said Seavey. “We believe if we can take those two grand properties and [the Waterfront Pavilion] and turn them into productive spaces, it’s going to keep it going.” Seavey said that if the buildings stay as they are it could be a deterrent to business owners opening a new endeavor downtown. “But if that Main Street looks like Jake’s building and Gary’s building is starting to look, then that will likely change some minds. That’s what we’re hedging all this on.”

The McAlister Building Detailed

The McAlister building stands a towering four stories high, making it the tallest point in downtown Calais. The building was most recently used by Bud’s Over and Under Beef and Brew and the bottom two floors still reflect that purpose. The top two floors have retained a fair amount of their original construction as large apartments. 

“This, at one time, was clearly among the grandest buildings in Calais,” said Seavey. The exterior brickwork will include removing the paint and repairing the protrusions. Once that’s done, the downstairs will be prepared for commercial use. “Our goal is to create a retail space and to work with the town and CDRC on it to push getting in businesses that will help the downtown area,” Seavey explained.

The interior of the upstairs will require a significant amount of removal of the unusable materials. One dumpster of debris has already been removed. “Whatever we can’t save, we’ll take pictures of to put it back in the same design,” Seavey said. 

“I can’t wait,” said Young. “I’m so excited about this. We’re going to try to salvage everything we can.” Original cast iron fixtures, lighting fixtures, sinks, a tub, and fireplaces remain in the McAlister building. 

For both the McAlister and the Sarsaparilla buildings, the pair will be working from historic photographs to ensure that the rehabilitation stays true to the original designs.

The Sarsaparilla Building Reviewed

Built in 1847, the famed Sarsaparilla building at the corner of North and Main has been a concern for years due to its condition. On the bottom of the building, the retail space has been redesigned to be a single large space. Seavey and Young plan to restore it to its original three retail spaces, two with exits onto Main Street and one with an exit onto North Street.

The major issue with the Sarsaparilla building – aside from issues such as the plumbing system – is the roof. “There are about forty buckets on the top level to catch the rain,” said Seavey, who described the water as essentially pouring right through the ceiling. Once the exterior brickwork and the roof is restored to working order, the interior three retail spaces will be brought up to speed. The upper levels will be used for apartments or office spaces, as is the case with the McAlister building. “We took a tour up there,” said Seavey. “It’s quite daunting. There will be a lot of rip-out. Almost everything will be redone.” 

“Somebody’s got to do it,” affirmed Young.

The goal with the Sarsaparilla building is to preserve the iconic “cures where others fail” imagery on the outside, the remnant of Dr. Thomson’s Medicine Company and Laboratory. The building was the site of production for sarsaparilla medicine, which, as the slogan claimed, could be used for curing just about any malady.

The Waterfront Pavilion Examined

Located next to the library, the former Visitor’s Information Center will soon be a hub of activity if Seavey and Young have their way. The pair aim to convert the upstairs area into a restaurant space while leaving the downstairs for other development.

“It looks good, but it’s very dated,” said Seavey. “It’s a great site, great location, good building, could be a great atmosphere, but this will be challenging.” Seavey said that anytime a building is remodeled to add a restaurant with a kitchen it is a significant investment. “We’ll do what we can on this while we’re working on the other buildings.”

Ideally, the pair will find a business owner that wants to remodel the downstairs for a specific purpose – preferably one that would complement the building’s location along the Riverwalk and the St. Croix River itself. The city has previously discussed the advantage of having a recreation equipment rental store in the downstairs, and, with luck, the right opportunity will present itself for that to become a reality.

“We don’t know what the timeframe is for the restaurant,” said Young. “We’d like to have it open by Christmas, but we’ll have to see. We’re going to do it right, have everything in place before we open the door. Every stroke of the paintbrush will be done.”

The City’s Response

While there are some on the city council – and Mayor Billy Howard himself – that have expressed their doubts about Seavey and Young’s proposal due in part to the amount of work involved, City Manager Jim Porter sees it as a positive development.

“I think it’s a good deal for Calais,” said Porter. He explained that the alternative would be for the city to lose two historic buildings at great expense. He added that without the scaffolding now arranged alongside the Sarsaparilla building, it would have presented an immediate threat during International Homecoming Festival. “The bricks were ready to go. There were three or four of them on the sidewalk. You can say they were going to drop straight down, but it was talked about that there could be catastrophic failure where the whole side of the building comes down.”

Porter is optimistic about the partnership’s plans for the brick buildings and their interiors, especially the parts that can be salvaged. “If they get those balconies back to where they were, you’ve got luxury apartments up there,” said Porter. “There's a lot of possibility, but there’s a lot of expense there.”

It is estimated that Seavey and Young will be investing $1.5 million into the projects. The city is expecting to provide a forgivable loan of $165,000 for work on the Waterfront Pavilion, funds that will be drawn from the Economic and Community Development fund. The loan will be forgiven if the partnership accomplishes its goals within the agreed-upon timetable. 

A significant amount will be saved by the partnership due to Young doing much of the work himself, a benefit that Porter thinks is highly favorable for the situation. “[Young’s] got the expertise. He can bring a lot to it.”

 

Peering inside an antique ice closet in the McAlister building is Gary Young. Young will be working with Dave Seavey to restore the exterior and interior of the building and the Sarsaparilla building. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

The Sarsaparilla building can be seen in the center of this shot from approximately a century ago, with the protruding balconies of the McAlister building on the left. Both buildings will be restored as the result of a newly-formed partnership between Dave Seavey and Gary Young. (Photo courtesy of the St. Croix Historical Society). 

The view from the fourth floor of the McAlister building is unlike any other in Calais. As the tallest remaining building in town, it offers a commanding view of the St. Croix River. In the future, pending its successful rehabilitation, the balcony will be part of a luxury apartment. (Photo by Lura Jackson)