A new elementary school. Housing developments. Dozens of additions, remodels and new builds from the ground up — they have all happened here.
The Twin Cities combined to issue nearly $94 million in commercial building permits over the past 12 months, according to records from Lewiston and Auburn’s planning departments.
Since July 2017, Auburn has issued 155 commercial permits for projects totaling more than $27 million.
And in Lewiston over the past year, 99 commercial permits were issued for projects totaling more than $66 million in that time.
In the previous 12 months, Auburn had $18.8 million worth of commercial projects, Lewiston $22.1 million.
Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s economic and community development director, said the city is coming off several strong years and the year ahead is looking bright.
“There are plenty of inquiries and nosing around and projects that are sort of in the early stages of being developed, the conversations with civil engineers,” he said. “I feel very good on that front.”
More than half of Lewiston’s total commercial development came from the new Robert B. Connors Elementary School. Other sizable projects included the Szanton Co.’s Hartley Block housing development downtown, and the U.S. Department of Defense and Emergency Management’s nearly $5 million permit processed last month to remodel the Lewiston Armory on Alfred Plourde Parkway.
“A lot of it is local companies expanding, so the economy is doing well,” Jeffers said. “Szanton, while they’re a Portland-based developer, they’ve actually had experience in Lewiston: The Lofts at Bates Mill did very well, and they’d been seeking to do another project up here. They’ve got another one in the works in Auburn right now, which is a testament to how much the market is improving.”
Pointing to new businesses such as Sonder & Dram, a bar and grill on Ash Street in Lewiston, and The Curio, an art and alehouse opening later this summer on Lisbon Street, he said: “It’s fun to see those types of projects and people embarking on them and taking the risk and laying it out there. They seem to be making it, so that’s exciting.”
In Auburn, Eric Cousens, deputy director of economic and community development, said the city set a new monthly record in June for the total number of building permits processed, everything from commercial development to plumbing and new signs.
“Since 2008, we’ve only issued over 120 permits in a given month two times,” he said. “This past month, we did 141. We have a strong economy. We’re seeing a lot of interest right now.”
In Auburn, Cousens is credited with streamlining the permitting process and, thus, shrinking the wait time for developers.
“That’s slow to make a difference on decision-making for where people chose to invest, but I think that people are starting to recognize Auburn as a friendly place to do business,” he said.
“In past years, when we’ve had a noticeable spike for our investment for the year, quite honestly, it was due to one big project,” he said. “It’s kind of across the board (this year).”
Auburn’s largest commercial projects included a new housing development on Spring Street, a $3 million addition at East Auburn Baptist Church and a nearly $900,000 expansion at Rainbow Federal Credit Union.
Cousens said interest in housing has also been strong this spring, with $4.4 million in one- and two-family housing permits processed since January for both new builds and improvements.
“We’re seeing a lot of demand for new housing that wasn’t here a few years ago. A lot of it is near Exit 75,” Cousens said. “We’re trying to determine if there’s an opportunity for additional housing and commuter housing, people leaving the Portland market who are working in the Portland market and they’re wanting to live here.”
In Auburn, that might lead to conversations later this year around zoning changes, allowing house lots where they are not allowed now, or reducing lot size requirements in different areas, he said.
Jeffers also said he is seeing more interest coming from southern Maine.
“(There’s) very limited real estate down there,” he said, “and there are opportunities up here.”
Lewiston has seen $3.7 million in housing permits processed since January.
Valley Beverage, formerly known as Federal Distributors, started work on a 100- by 236-foot warehouse addition at 2019 Lisbon St. earlier this year. With a price tag of more than $1.8 million, it is one of the top 10 building projects in Lewiston over the past 12 months. This aerial photo was taken July 9. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
The elevator shafts are completed and walls are rising at 62 Spring St. in Auburn, where a nearly $5.5 million multifamily development is underway. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)