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Shuttered Winthrop nursing home being converted to rental units, disability housing

Kennebec Journal - 12/22/2017

Dec. 22--A shuttered nursing home on Western Avenue in Winthrop was sold last month and its new owners are converting the facility into apartments that they eventually hope to rent to people with disabilities.

The nursing home, Winthrop Manor Long Term Care and Rehab Center, closed in the summer of 2016 after several years of operating losses that its owner attributed to shrinking reimbursements from MaineCare and Medicare.

At the end of November, two business partners, Matt Ricard, of the Winthrop area, and Matt Michaelsen, of San Francisco, bought the decades-old facility and began converting its units into efficiency apartments.

In the short term, they plan to rent the units to travelers using the online platform AirBnB, Ricard said in an interview. In the longer term, they hope to offer housing to people with intellectual disabilities such as autism.

"It's starting out as short-term rentals," Ricard said. "The revenue that's coming in will help us fund the rest of the renovations and get the rooms ready to be disability housing."

On Wednesday night, Ricard and Michaelsen's project got a boost when the Winthrop Planning Board decided that they wouldn't need a conditional use permit to continue with the project. The town's code enforcement officer, Mark Arsenault, will be able to recommend that the business partners return to the Planning Board if he sees fit.

Michaelsen, who was in California, spoke with board members using a video feed on Ricard's laptop. He told them that there's a dearth of housing designated for people with intellectual disabilities and that their project would help meet that demand by creating about 26 beds.

"I have a 14-year-old son with autism, and I realized there's a shortage of housing," he said. He has tried to develop housing for people with disabilities in other parts of the country, he continued, "and the Manor fit right into my plans."

When they eventually open the facility to people with disabilities, it will be strictly for housing, Michaelsen said. They do not intend to provide services to the residents; rather, service providers will be able to see the residents on the site.

Michaelsen and Ricard bought the property for $267,500. They paid $125,000 in cash and obtained the rest of the financing in a deal with the seller, according to Ricard.

Besides installing bathrooms and showers in all the apartments, they're paying for overdue maintenance on the building, Michaelsen said at the Planning Board meeting. They hope to complete the project in two or three years.

Winthrop Manor housed an average of 40 residents over the last five years, its previous owner, Edward Hunt, said after the nursing home closed in June 2016.

A former farm building, it was first converted to a care facility in 1956 and was showing its age in recent years. At least one furnace and two commercial laundry machines were 25 years old and in need of replacement, according to Hunt.

Ricard and Michaelsen met while they were both doing real estate work in Indiana, Ricard said. In Ricard's case, he was buying single-family homes at tax auctions and reselling them.

When the disability housing complex is completed in Winthrop, Ricard said, he thinks residents will be able to pay for their rooms with a mix of personal finances and public funding, but wasn't sure what programs would provide that public funding.

Michaelsen and Ricard also are contacting local groups that help people with disabilities to seek their input on the project, Ricard said.

Charles Eichacker -- 621-5642

ceichacker@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @ceichacker

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(c)2017 the Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine)

Visit the Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine) at www.kjonline.com

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