AUBURN — Work building a parking lot and a potential bank drive-through is well under way downtown even though it's not settled which bank will use the space.
Bill Johnson, partner in 31 Court Street Associates, said the group purchased the lot next door to the former Dunlap Building to make room for more parking and make the property more profitable.
"We feel we are doing something very good for the area," Johnson said. "That area out back there has been difficult, traffic-wise, around the Hilton Garden Inn and coming off of the bridge. There has been a lot of traffic down there and we hope this will help."
The group owns the 31 Court St. property, home to Willis of Northern New England Inc., formerly The Dunlap Corp. and HRH Northern New England.
Johnson said the current lease with tenants Willis of Northern New England expires this fall and a new one is being worked out.
"We are talking with other people for other parts of the building should Willis not take the entire building," Johnson said. "That's where it's at now. In the meantime, the main drawback to the building has been parking and that's what we're trying to fix."
Crews began working at the northeast corner of Court and Turner streets last week, removing trees and digging up a brick-paved plaza.
Plans include adding about 18 parking spaces and building a new drive-through area between the 31 Court St. building and Great Falls Plaza. The parking replaces about eight spaces located on Great Falls Plaza — the only parking for the building and its tenants.
"Before, I think we had a very dangerous situation for that building," Johnson said. "Cars could pull in, but they had to back out, into Great Falls Plaza traffic."
Councilors sold Johnson's group the 16,703-square-foot green space for $4 per square foot in March. Roland Miller, city economic development director, said the final price on the lot was $65,240.
The old benches and streetlights in the park have been kept by the city to repair or replace similar installations around town. The trees have been cut down and sold with the proceeds going to Auburn's low-income heating assistance program.
Johnson said his group plans to plant new trees in the area.
"And they will be sizable trees with good foliage," Johnson said. A landscaping plan calls for lilacs, yews and crab apples along Court Street, two large sugar maples on the eastern end and smaller plantings around the lot.
The work is not part of plans to add a new eastbound turning lane on Court Street at Turner. Miller said that project, funded by the Maine Department of Transportation, is expected to begin in October or later. Work building the new parking lot should be wrapped up next month.
"It's a pretty ambitious schedule, but that's what they want to do," said City Planner Eric Cousens. "All of it, paving and landscaping, should be done before Balloon Festival."