Hewitt Block owner Rick Rockwell on the green roof of the building, which is planted in sedum to increase cooling and trap rainwater. Photos by C. Parrish
Hewitt Block owner Rick Rockwell on the green roof of the building, which is planted in sedum to increase cooling and trap rainwater. Photos by C. Parrish
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The historically careful renovation of the Hewitt Block at 449 Main Street in Rockland is complete, with substantial help from a historic preservation tax credit.

The renovated building, which stood empty for years, now has new retail space on the first floor, modern office space on the second floor, two luxury apartments/studios suitable for visiting artists on the third floor and a garden planted edge-to-edge in purple and green sedum, with walkways and a deck, on the roof.

The flat, planted roof requires no watering, reduces rain runoff and does not trap heat like regular roofing.

Cutwater Outfitters, an outdoor clothing and products store, has taken a lease on the Main Street level. They opened five weeks ago. The lower level that faces the parking lot behind the building is not occupied, but could house a restaurant in the future.

The historic preservation of the Hewitt Block, which was originally built in the 1880s to house John Bird Grocers, was undertaken by the new owner, Rick Rockwell, who has family ties to the area. Rockwell had the Maine Coast Construction crew salvage old doors, original hardwood floors and original trim in the building and kept many other original features.

"Maine is the original recycling state," said Rockwell. "As we took the building apart, we would find pieces of other buildings. We would pull things out of the rafters, including old doors and windows."

Historic preservation takes far longer and requires much more patience and skill with finish carpentry than modern construction, said Mark De-Michele of Maine Coast Construction, who oversaw the renovation. "It takes a couple of hours to frame and hang a new door," he said. "It takes a full eight to ten hours to place an old door, and that doesn't include finishing the surface."

While steam radiators and spacious ceilings capture the historic nature and structure of the building, the decor is decidedly modern. The third-floor apartment/studios, for instance, are urban chic: minimalist granite, black and white, stainless steel and an open floor plan.

Rockwell took advantage of federal and state historic preservation tax credits to help renovate the Hewitt Block. Rockwell said the tax credits for the $2 million project are in the process of being totalled now to see which expenses qualify. The credits will contribute up to 45 percent of the cost of qualifying expenses, said Rockwell, not 45 percent of the project cost.

The renovation of the building is part of a much larger picture of historic preservation in Maine. Owners of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places have long been eligible to apply for federal tax credits if building renovations adhered to historical preservation guidelines. Since 2008, owners have also been able to take advantage of Maine state tax credits, if reconstruction meets the standards.

This spring, the state tax credit was extended by the Maine Legislature until 2023.

Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation, said the tax credits have spurred downtown revitalization and economic development in small towns across the state. Since 2008, the tax credits have assisted in 26 renovation projects and drawn $138 million in private investment to Maine downtowns, said Paxton.

"And no downtown exceeds the activity of Rockland, where historic preservation has played a key role in the revitalization of the downtown," he said.

"The tax credits have also allowed for creation of 2,700 new jobs statewide because of the work available," said Paxton.

Sixteen old buildings are in the National Main Street Historic District in Rockland. The district, which starts at Winter Street, and has just been expanded north to Lindsey Street on one side and almost to the ferry terminal on the other, now includes 12 more buildings.