"I love old buildings," said John McKeith, new owner of Belfast Center, the candy-cane building on the corner of Field and High streets. "And this building has some great energy."

McKeith closed Nov. 30 on the 48,000-square-foot converted shoe factory with a lot size of 1.25 acres for an undisclosed amount. He spoke with The Republican Journal during a meet and greet with building occupants Dec. 14.

No immediate changes are planned, except McKeith would like to add a "the" in front of the name, making it The Belfast Center.

He said there is some "deferred maintenance" he will take care of first, cleaning up and renovating, plus a new front entrance and new garden plantings for spring; but the exterior will remain red and white. "We're going to work with it," he said.

According to McKeith, the building has an 87-percent occupancy rate with "some turnover but not much …. There are several longstanding businesses that have been here 20-plus years."

He said one of the things that drew him to the building is the sense of "community" within businesses. "Community appeals to me," he said.

Some current businesses and organizations at The Belfast Center include Waldo Community Action Partners, Head Start, photographer Neal Parent, Belfast Yoga Studio, Christ the King Church, Forest Audio (recording studio), Hair & Nail Boutique, By-the-Bay Property Rentals, Marion Brown Rug Hooking Studio, Coastal Marine Canvas, plus several social workers, counselors, artists and musicians round out the list.

"We have a wonderful mix of people," McKeith said. "That's something I'd like to encourage. I want to preserve that sense of community, and stimulate it."

He would also like to market the building properly, complete with a new logo and website to "highlight some of the businesses here."

He says the rents are relatively low and the spaces available are perfect for a small business ready to "get out of the garage or the kitchen."

"It's one of the bigger spaces of its kind (in Belfast)," and he quipped, "it's only a 90-second drive to downtown."

According to property manager Wayne Owen, the least expensive office currently is an 11-by-13-foot space which lists for $175 a month, including utilities and the services of an onsite manager. Owen said the rents vary according to ease and accessibility.

"I am excited about the new ownership, and his ideas are really great," Owen said. He went on to say the previous owners, Joe and Judy Losquadro, were also very nice but wanted to spend more time with their grandchildren.

Marion Brown has a rug hooking studio in the building and has been there for almost seven years. She says many people come to do embroidery and knitting at her studio. The new owner is "excited" and "very open to connecting with people," Brown said.

Marianna Moll of Belfast Yoga Studio has been in the building 26 years. "I was here when Brian Cooper was the owner," she said. Her studio enjoys a beautiful view of Belfast Harbor from its top-floor location.

According to a "History of Belfast in the 20th Century" by Jay Davis and Tim Hughes, the building was built in 1949 "in 53 working days." Belfast Shoe Co. had a July 4 dedication and produced shoes there until 1968 when another shoe manufacturer, Waldo Shoe Co., bought the building. They produced shoes until 1981 when the company closed.

For a couple of years in the late '80s, Etonic assembled tennis shoes at this site until it "quietly closed" Dec. 1, 1989, according to the book. At the turn of the century, the building was providing space for a "lively mix of community organizations, artists and small businesses."

Tenley Mossing has worked with and for McKeith on the former Toddy Pond School in Swanville, which she and her partner sold to him exactly one year ago.

"I was delighted to stay on as his property manager after he purchased our building," she said.

"John recognized a need for affordable year-round housing in the Belfast area and was eager to get to know and hire local contractors for renovations and making improvements to his apartment building in Swanville."

Mossing went on to say she has seen first-hand, how "John does what John says he is going to do, which shows me his sincerity, reliability and commitment to Belfast."

McKeith said he has always been interested in real estate and had "heard about the building for about a year."

A professional commercial photographer, McKeith works with colleges, universities and prep schools internationally and says he loves working with people.

For more information about The Belfast Center, email or call John McKeith at john@thebelfastcenter.com, 749-4715 or property manager Wayne Owen at 338-2988.