LEWISTON — The group hoping to save the iconic Bates Mill No. 5 from demolition will unveil new details of its plan to city councilors during a closed door meeting Tuesday night.
Peter Flanders, a member of Grow L+A, said the group's Five-2-Farm plan has picked up four unnamed Maine investors who might be interested in helping to renovate the aging sawtooth-roofed building if the city doesn't tear it down.
"They have expressed different levels of interest, and they've all given us a list of things that if we can put it together, these groups would be interested in making this project happen," Flanders said. "But we really need (the council's) nod of approval in order to take it to the next step. From the investors' standpoint, they say, 'Isn't that building coming down?'"
Members of Grow L+A are scheduled to meet with city councilors and Mayor Robert Macdonald in an executive session at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Lewiston City Hall.
"If we are asking for anything, it's for time," Flanders said. "We're asking for a timeline."
The building at Main and Lincoln streets was designed by architect Albert Kahn, a renowned American industrial designer, and is one of the first to use reinforced concrete. It has two floors, each covering 145,000 square feet, and its own hydroelectrical generation facility in the basement. Construction began in 1912 and wrapped up early in 1914.
The city has owned the building since 1992 and it's been used as storage since 1999. Councilors planned to demolish the building in 2010 but delayed. Last summer's Riverfront Island Master Plan recommended demolishing it and redeveloping the space as a park or business area.
A Rhode Island architect made the building his senior thesis in 2011. Architect James Mangrum proposed two uses for the building: A server farm in the basement and an indoor greenhouse on the top floor. It caught the interest of local architects and developers, who formed Grow L+A around the idea.
But Flanders said the idea now includes more than two uses. Flanders imagines the space used for retail, light industrial uses, food processing, a year-round farmers market, community space and loft-style apartments.
"The question has always come up, how do you redevelop a building that large," Flanders said. "The answer is, you break it into pieces and you work at those pieces. When you put them back together, you have a new, bigger whole."
The group would like to secure ownership of the building this year — either themselves or with the unnamed investors. They'd begin renovating and reopen it in 2014 — 100 years after it was first built.
But they need to convince the council, and the council has already come down in favor of doing away with it. Councilors have agreed to put aside $2.5 million in bonds toward the demolition in their capital plan. City Administrator Ed Barrett said the bond sale won't be official until a council vote in May or June.
"It's been my impression, talking with the councilors, that they would like something done or some decision made while they are still in office," Barrett said.
He said the private ownership of the canals that run alongside and through the building and the hydroelectrical generating facility in its basement make things more complicated.
The building is owned by the city, but FPL Energy Maine Hydro/Next Era Energy has contracted to sell their share of the canals and generating equipment and rights to Toronto-based Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners. That's part of a larger $700 million transfer of hydrogenerating assets in Maine and New Hampshire.
The city was negotiating a deal to take over the canals and Mill No. 5 equipment last year, but it evaporated last June.
"So once that sale happens, we can continue to have discussions with the owners," Barrett said.