HOULTON, Maine — A local entrepreneur said last Wednesday that he will be changing the rules at a parking lot that he owns next to his movie theater after it has become apparent he must do so to keep his business running smoothly and to make the lot self-sustaining.
Charles Fortier, a Houlton native, businessman and writer who returned from New Jersey to purchase the Temple Cinema in April, said that he made the decision to go back to requiring permits to park in the lot beside the movie house to ensure that it pays for itself.
He said that the prior owners, Michael Hurley and Therese Bagnardi of Belfast, had been attempting to do the same thing for the last 14 years.
“The lot was always permit-parking-only before now, but it had no teeth to it because they lived in Belfast and they couldn’t enforce it,” Fortier said.
Fortier said that in the next month or so, he will be closing off the side of the lot that faces the Meduxnekeag River. The Temple Cinema side of the lot will be the only entrance. Permit badges will be distributed to all of the paying tenants of the Temple building, those who are renting slots already, and all current Temple employees. Fortier also said anyone who currently works or lives downtown and would like to buy a parking permit can do so by contacting him.
After a warning process, he will apply a boot, or immobilization device, to the vehicles of those who violate the parking ban and will charge violators to remove the boot. Those who leave their vehicles for more than a day will be towed at the owner’s expense. Fortier said he also will be closing all of the unrented spaces off for the winter so that he does not have to plow the whole lot.
“Next summer I will be charging sponsors of events in Market Square such as Midnight Madness and the Community Market a fee if they wish to use the Temple lot for the day,” he added.
Fortier said he made his decision after officials twice turned down his proposal to have the town buy the lot, at one point for its assessed value of $32,700. In 2014, then-owner Hurley attempted to sell the parking lot to the town for $91,000.
“I offered the lot to the town for just what I paid for it with an interest-free mortgage over a number of years,” he explained Monday. “They shocked me by debating how they would instead turn it back into a permit lot and what the town might make charging people before rejecting me. I waited a bit and reoffered the lot for 10 percent less than the purchase price and over a longer period of time, still interest-free, in hopes that they would change their minds. They didn’t.”
Town Manager Butch Asselin said Sept. 7 that Fortier, as a business owner, is free to do whatever he wants with his property. He said that that there was no one specific reason why the town turned down Fortier’s offer, officials just felt it wasn’t in the best interest of the town.
The matter was discussed during a July 25 town council meeting, with only councilor Jane Torres in support of acquiring the lot.
Fortier said he is not doing this to make money, but to break even. He also said he wished town officials had taken a closer look at the value of his parking lot to the downtown.
“Town officials do a lot in the center of Market Square, especially with the community market, during Midnight Madness and when they have customer appreciation days and have barbecues,” he said. “It is during those times that people bring their cars and picnic tables and their horses to my lot. That is a lot of open space.”
Fortier’ s full statement is available on the Temple Cinema Facebook page.