Bennett sounds reveille for mills, Lisbon Street

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The worst thing about dreaming is waking up.

Jim Bennett, the city administrator of Lewiston, certainly appears to have risen sharply, as evidenced by his recent presentation to the city council on future capital investments. Bennett discussed allocating millions to revive Lisbon Street and demolish the Libbey Mill and Bates Mill No. 5.

December’s devastating fire on Lisbon Street, the deluge of taxpayer dollars to support notorious firetraps like the Libbey Mill, and unrealized pie-in-the-sky hopes for a first-class convention center at the Bates Mill seems to have soured Bennett’s optimism about their ambitious redevelopment projects.

“Maybe it’s time for the community to put aside the dream if nothing is going to happen there,” Bennett said about Bates Mill No. 5. If it’s still vacant by 2009, he said, it should go. Taxpayers will spend $410,000 this fiscal year just to keep it empty, and the dream alive.

Bennett eyes $500,000 for tearing down Libbey, finishing a job that conflagration couldn’t. A last-ditch plea by historians saved the Libbey in 2000, one year after half the former cotton mill was consumed by fire, and six months after Lewiston absorbed it for nonpayment of taxes.

Developers want to turn the Libbey into luxury condos – the ambitious Island Point – the pace of which is causing consternation. A highfalutin hotel would anchor the revitalization by 2012, but each day that passes makes razing, not room service, more realistic.

Dreams of a revitalized Lisbon Street were singed from the flames emanating from the Kora, Cressey and Greely buildings in December. The disappearance of those hulks, plus the neighboring furniture building, revealed an uncomfortable truth: vacancies are a foremost downtown commodity.

Vacant lots and buildings in downtown have reached a critical mass, in Bennett’s opinion, balancing the district on a knife’s edge of reward or ruin. It might not be the most political thing to say, given that this is L-A, and it’s happening here, but Bennett’s never worried about ruffling feathers.

Good thing; there could be plenty of upset, homeless, birds if the Libbey Mill comes down.

It’s disheartening to look at old photographs of Lisbon Street and see its heartbeat, or the whirring mills and see their vitality. The buildings are relics of these better times, and connect a community charting its future with the comfortable embrace of its past.

But they are just buildings.

Bennett proposes a TIF district for Lisbon Street to encourage development of three-story buildings. It’s a carrot-and-stick proposal and a fine plan as, too often, cities chase dreams that are presented to them instead of outlining their own. Lewiston should make its development needs primary, given one of its primary needs is development.

As is reducing tax burdens, which continued support of the Libbey and Bates mills could become. If the dreams for these mills must be sacrificed in the best interest of Lewiston and its residents, so be it.

It’s time to wake up.

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