LEWISTON — The chance to bring some median income home buyers downtown helped convince councilors Tuesday to approve a development agreement for an abandoned downtown duplex.
City Councilors voted 5-2 to approve a sales agreement with Coastal Enterprises Inc. to renovate the old Androscoggin Mill Duplex house at 271 Park St.
According to that plan, CEI will pay the city $50,000 for the building. It will redevelop the property using $500,000 in federal Neighborhood Stabilization money and a $150,000 loan.
The result will be two 2,800-square-foot condominiums that could be available for purchase in the fall. CEI Housing Director John Egan said he estimated each condo could sell for $125,000 — a price that City Council President Stephen Morgan estimated was low.
"A 2,800-square-foot home is a good size home," he said. "I'd suggest you add some to that price. I think you could get $140,000 or $150,000."
But Councilor Ron Jean objected to using federal money to rehabilitate a failing building.
"If you spend $650,000 to fix it up, then get back $125,000, where does the rest go?" Jean asked. "Does it just disappear? Does the state and the federal government just say, there you go? Go have fun."
But Mark McComas, acting community development director, said the National Stabilization Program money is geared at projects that will help to economically stabilize neighborhoods hurt by the bad economy.
It was part of the stimulus approved by Congress and President George Bush in 2008 and is designed to help median income property owners — those with incomes up to 120 percent of the poverty level. McComas estimated that at about $67,000 for a family of four.
The city has $1.5 million in NSP grants, but has had difficulty finding properties that meet the program's criteria.
"Basically, it applies to properties that have worked their way all the way through the foreclosure process," McComas said. "These would not be properties that someone will step forward and purchase when the price goes low enough. These are properties that won't be developed."
McComas said the city has until September to find projects for that money. If they can't, it will be reclaimed by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.
Councilor John Butler said he thought the project fit nicely with the City Council's goals.
"We've said we want to rebuild the downtown," Butler said. "You do that one step at a time. I think we should take this as an opportunity to start doing that."
The duplex is one of three built to house Androscoggin Mill managers in 1871. The city took over the property in 1992 and it was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in April 2001. The city lists its value currently at $71,250.