LEWISTON — The votes are in, all 914 of them.
You have spoken and you’d like Bates Mill No. 5 to become . . . the next Faneuil Hall!
Vendor stalls. Intimate pubs. Walkable arts space.
Cue mimes, giggling children and aroma of fresh-baked chocolate orange cookies.
A panel of economic development experts praised the pick (“a wonderful idea,” “great for the community”).
Then questioned the logistics of lining up hundreds of tenants, the beastly traffic and where would everyone park?
Economists. An occasional buzz kill.
The Sun Journal project on the future of Bates Mill No. 5 started two months ago with more than 70 suggestions — readers’ visions for the city-owned building and/or the land beneath it . . . if they could wave a wand and make it so.
An indoor water park? Business incubator? Vegetable-growing paradise?
After putting 38 of those ideas out to a community vote, a clear top three emerged from the almost 1,000 reader responses. Those three ideas were then given to six experts, who have now weighed in — mostly on the myriad hurdles, with some glimmers of maybe.
They say to think fewer mimes and pubs, more museums.
On Jan. 18, the city will host a public hearing on three proposals by a Boston firm that involve Mill No. 5 and the broader space downtown, part of the Riverfront Island Master Plan process. City leaders are after feedback.
And, despite statewide defeat at the ballot in November of a casino there, the City Council has also approved a six-month extension on Stavros Mendros’ option for the casino so his development group can try again this spring in the Legislature. In perhaps an unusual move, the option keeps their rights to the property alive while letting the city do anything — build, tear down, sell — in the meantime.
The discussion on the future of the nearly 100-year-old former textile mill won’t end here. And just maybe, readers, you nudged it along.
* Ed Barrett, Lewiston city administrator
* Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston assistant to the administrator
* George Schott, owner of the Auburn Mall and behind developments such as the Auburn Marriott
* Charles Colgan, former state economist, University of Southern Maine professor
* Tom Platz, architect and developer, Platz Associates
* Roland Miller, Auburn economic development director
The top three favorite ideas and what our experts thought of them:
1. "Think Pike Place Market in Seattle, Faneuil Hall in Boston: Thoughtful renovation, parking/handicap access and a blend of vendors, shops, restaurants, take-away food stands and cultural attractions." From Victor R. Leclerc, Lewiston (232 votes)
Pros: There’s enough space inside, and it’s centrally located.
Cons: Maybe too much space and not enough parking. It’s also retail; retail isn’t doing so hot.
* “That is an idea that could actually work in that kind of footprint building.” Ed Barrett
* “It would be a very good thing for Lewiston-Auburn. The question at that point would be, would they have enough business to survive? I would think there would have to be another draw, like an IMAX theater or a sports arena.” George Schott
* “There are 360,000-380,000 square feet. If you broke it down into 1,000- and 2,000-square-foot stalls, you’re talking hundreds of tenants. Not impossible, but would have to be well thought out.
“We’ve looked at a lot of retail, and it would be an ideal location if you did something like the Kittery Trading Post or Freeport and do factory direct stores here. The real key is getting somebody who’s done this, who has the contacts, who can entice people to come in.” Tom Platz
* “There are two real drawbacks: The mention here is of Pike Place, that’s kind of the model for all this. The one thing about Pike Place is that it has a fabulous view over Puget Sound, and no offense to the Androscoggin, but it ain’t the same.
“I think Faneuil Hall has done well over the years mostly because of its location relative to a very vibrant part of the city. Faneuil Hall as a method for revitalizing the city, I don’t think would have worked. Evidence for that is the Portland Public Market. It was an excellent architectural exercise, but it was put in a place that was a distance from the touristy downtown Old Port area. As a result, it went belly up.” Charles Colgan
* “We’d need to test the market. Something like this draws from a long area but really has to be supported by the local community.” Roland Miller
* “There’s a whole host of folks who are actively working to get people to realize we actually have a lot to offer as a tourism base, but it’s not millions of people, and I think that’s the biggest challenge.” Another: Parking. Retailers like three to five parking spaces per 1,000 feet of retail. That’s about 1,400 spaces. The garage at Lincoln and Main has 450. Lincoln Jeffers
2. "Back to the Future — Science Center that includes: IMAX theater, Star Watch, Robotic Center, Science Arcade, music playing on a fountain of water, exhibit halls, hands-on experience areas and kids’ park." From Mary Story, Auburn (179 votes)
Pros: This could be the draw the building and the area need.
Cons: It’s pricey.
* “The difficulty is that those facilities don’t pay for themselves, for their operating costs, as a general rule, so they need to be subsidized. One of the ideas that the city kicked around for quite a bit of time was the notion of a conference center there, which again, that’s the kind of building that would work for a conference center, but the stumbling block is the subsidy that would be required from the city for that to operate, and I think you’d be looking at something similar there.” Ed Barrett
* “Forgetting about the operational subsidies, you still have the capital costs of converting it to those kind of uses.” Ballpark estimate to stabilize the building and leave it in a raw state, ready for its next use: $50/square foot. Lincoln Jeffers
* “It would be quite expensive to do, but that probably is about the best group in the scenario: Having an entertainment complex where you’d have cinemas and science and anything else that would attract people so they could feed off of each other.” George Schott
* “Museums are a great draw. The biggest problem with them are you have to have a community that’s willing to pay for them. They’re not going to be privately funded in the sense of a business — they don’t make money; they lose money. I personally think it is time that the two cities invest some money in a major draw to this area.
“If you can get the two cities to kick in $12 million and build a museum in Lewiston-Auburn, it will be well worth it. This building is awful big to do a museum. You would have to make it part of a development, and you couldn’t do something like an IMAX. (Saco has an 80-mile no compete zone, keeping out close competition.)
“I wouldn’t want to compete with the Boston Museum of Science because you could never win. You don’t really need the razzle-dazzle; you need to be different and you need to be important.” Tom Platz
* “It could work, and it could work as a resource for the whole state. The model here would be something like the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which has a small aquarium and science education center on the first floor, which draws kids from all over the state. Leaving aside the marine environment, which GMRI has covered, there’s lots of other stuff that you could do, and Lewiston would be a good center for that.
“You’re not going to make a lot of profit selling tickets to school kids, but as an idea, it is more compatible with the location (and) represents something that isn’t available elsewhere in the state. It’s the only one of the three that I see as plausible, if still very difficult.” Charles Colgan
* “It’s a lot of square footage for something like this, but it’s a very exciting and transformational type of idea.” Roland Miller
3. "Manufacturing jobs — Let’s go back to the old days and get this place going with manufacturing of some type and create lots of jobs for the people that live in Lewiston first and teach them skills for it." From Paul Roy, Lewiston (161 votes)
Pros: Well, it’s been done before, and there’s a ready and eager workforce within walking distance.
Cons: Given the glut of more enticing space out there, why come here?
* “Imagine having Wal-Mart Distribution Center truck traffic coming into the heart of downtown, having 900 tractor-trailers . . .” Lincoln Jeffers
* “The pluses would be that it’s already existing. The negatives are that it’s in-town, so it’s more time consuming for shipping and trucking.” George Schott
* “The indication is the rising costs in some of the (places) that have become manufacturing centers, like China, are starting to make it so manufacturing options closer to market are being considered.” Roland Miller
* “It’s an ideal site for it; you’d need very little renovation. You’d do the structurals, specialty flooring, insulation, probably leave it mostly open space. In terms of how to retrofit the building, it’s probably one of the more economical ways to go. Again, big hurdle is finding the right business for it.” Ideally, it’s one that uses raw material from Maine so product doesn’t have to ship in and ship out. Tom Platz
* “We would love it. The problem that most manufacturers are going to see is that they can find much less expensive space, and space that’s (built to suit). You don’t see manufacturing space built with two floors anymore.” Ed Barrett
* “There’s only probably 10 or 20 million square feet of vacant space in the United States available for manufacturing right now. That doesn’t even get to the competition, as near as Biddeford. It would have to be spectacularly good property at very low costs, and even then it would struggle.” Charles Colgan