LEE -- A local businessman's $3.7 million downtown revitalization project is being honored today as one of the state's top restoration efforts within the past year.
During an afternoon ceremony in Boston, Michael McManmon and his development team will receive a 2012 historic preservation award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for the restoration and renovation of the Baird & Benton block.
McManmon and his Lee-based College Intern ship Program (CIP) last year completed the pre servation work at 40-50 Main St., also known as the Bookless building.
In all, the commission is citing 12 projects, groups and individuals for their preservation efforts over the past 12 months.
The commission chairman, state secretary William F. Galvin, said the Lee project represents diverse and creative ways historic resources are being saved across Mas sachusetts.
"The restoration and adaptive reuse of the Baird & Benton block has returned the building to active use as a significant community re source, revitalizing downtown Lee," Galvin wrote in a prepared statement.
The upper two floors of the 133-year-old historical three-story building had been vacant for nearly 60 years, until McManmon converted them into classrooms and office space for CIP.
Headquartered in Lee, the international known program founded by McManmon in 1983, helps young adults with Asperger's syndrome -- a high-functioning form of autism -- and other learning difficulties get a college education or begin a career through local internships.
Meanwhile, the former H.A. Johansson's 5 & 10 store front on the Baird & Benton block's first floor was transformed into an art gal lery and cafe.
A manicure shop and tanning salon were the only tenants in the building when the preservation work began in late 2010 and was completed by July 1, 2011.
A year later, McManmon says the project still gets rave reviews.
"People who have moved away and come back to visit are glad of what we did," he said.
McManmon noted representatives from Allegrone Construction of Pittsfield and Durkee, Brown, Vivieros & Werenfels Architects of Prov idence, R.I., the project's contractor and designer re spectively, will personally accept the award on the development team's behalf.
Early this month, the project was one of 30 across the state honored by Preservation Massachusetts, a Boston-based organization.
The Baird & Benton block was built in 1879 for brother George and Prentice Baird and their partner, William Benton, members of two prom inent families in the town's paper manufacturing industry.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.