The Marble Block, designed by Charles H. Kimball in the 1860s, was originally a department store owned by O.H. Staples.
Later, in the mid-1900s, it became Fishman’s department store, which is how many people today remember it. The building sat empty for many years before the Reny family bought it in the 1980s. This building wasn’t the flagship Renys department store but John Reny, the founder of Renys, was born in Biddeford so this building holds a special place in the Reny family’s heart.
In 2011, thanks to the efforts of Bob and Mary Kate Reny, both advocates of strong downtowns and the arts, the family sold the building to Engine, an arts nonprofit that was formed in 2010. The building had deteriorated due to roof leaks and was mostly unusable because of serious issues of asbestos, mold, and lead paint. Only one year old, Engine didn’t have the funding both start an organization and renovate a 20,000 square foot historic building in serious need of repair. The building was moth-balled until 2013 when private foundation grant funds were awarded to do very basic things like install new power service, inspect sprinkler systems, repair roof leaks and pay for insurance to keep the building protected. In 2015, work on the building began in earnest after having received a $200,000 Brownfields cleanup grant from Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission. The building was transferred to the Marble Block Redevelopment Corp. nonprofit with the mission to redevelop the building for Engine’s charitable purposes.
In 2016, the Marble Block Redevelopment Corp. received a second Brownfield’s cleanup grant directly from the EPA and, as of January 2018, is half-way through that grant which will give the building a 100% clean bill of health when completed.
While abatement is underway, architectural drawings and construction estimates are being completed with the help of a loan from the Genesis Fund. The project is being spearheaded by John Anton and the Marble Block team, with hopes of successfully raising the funds to begin actual construction in 2019.