The city council on Tuesday approved abatement and demolition of two buildings at 46 Front St.

The goal is to ready the 1.45-acre lot for redevelopment. However, the larger building — a former railroad freight house and longtime home of the Belfast Maskers theater group has enough local adherents and historical significance that nothing is likely to happen right away.

The building has been vacant since 2012 when the city's insurance carrier deemed it too hazardous to cover and the Maskers were forced to leave.

City Councilor Neal Harkness, who served for a time as the Maskers' technical director, attested to the deterioration he saw while working there, including rotten structural components of the building.

“It's sad to say, but it's got to come down,” he said. “There's nothing you can do with that building.”

City officials have been working steadily over the last two years to make the property attractive for private development. In 2013, the city used a portion of a $200,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an environmental assessment of the property. The study found period-typical toxins, including lead paint and asbestos. The soil was found to contain oil and other contaminants.

Late last year, the city got a second EPA grant of $200,000 specifically for cleanup.

Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge, who wrote the grants, has advised the city council to hold off on major cleanup until the next use is better known. The grant would not cover the cost of a complete cleanup of the property including soil removal, but by using a combination of “targeted soil removal and cover systems,” Kittredge said the city could get more for the money.

“If a parking lot is part of the development and you know where it's going, you can do a cover system there and not soil removal,” he said, referring to the practice of “capping” an area of contaminated soil with an impervious surface.

The same goes for a new building, which he said could include a vapor barrier in the foundation, leaving more of the grant money for soil removal elsewhere on the property. The approach might also vary depending upon whether the new development is residential or commercial, he said.

“The more we know about what's going to be there, the better we can use the remaining grant funds,” he said.

During the two years that the building has been vacant, the Maskers building, as it has come to be known, has become a kind of keystone property on the rapidly changing waterfront. Front Street Shipyard now abuts the northern border of the 1.45- acre lot. To the south are the restaurants, shops and professional offices of Marshall Wharf. The Harbor Walk now runs behind the building following the path of the old rail line.

Kittredge said he's had some inquiries and heard suggestions for what should happen on the waterfront property but he hasn't had any formal proposals. He added that these would be premature given that the council hasn't decided on how much control or involvement it wants to keep with regard to the property.

“We're not really at that point yet,” he said. “But I'd like to see something that generates jobs or housing and revenue for the city.”

Harkness was of a similar mind. “That's too valuable a property not to be on the tax rolls,” he said.

Before the building comes down, it will be be documented for Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Additionally, Brooks Preservation Society, Our Town Belfast and the Belfast Museum and Historical Society have each asked to remove pieces of the building, including wooden door frames, light fixtures, hardware and 50 pairs of decorative roof brackets.

“I'm not exactly sure what they want to do with it,” Kittredge said. “But we felt good about it because they are area organizations.”

A new cement block building once used to store locomotives, located near the largest of Front Street Shipyard's buildings, would also be demolished.