LEWISTON — A lawsuit filed by a group dedicated to downtown economic development threatens to quash a $1.3 million Lisbon Street redevelopment, according to the developer, Jason Levesque.
Levesque said he’s signed a contract to purchase 199 Lisbon St., the former Marcotte Furniture building, and develop it into luxury apartments. The project has been in the works for several months.
“I have put $17,000 down on the property, and I’m putting together the final construction plans and I hope to go to the bank and work on getting loan approval in the next several weeks,” Levesque said.
He is fighting a suit filed by the Southern Gateway LLC, a subsidiary of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council-managed Lewiston Development Corp.
The suit, being argued in Androscoggin County Superior Court, claims Levesque and his Argo Marketing call center operation owes $65,000 in back rent, property taxes and electrical, water and sewer utility charges.
Levesque claims the suit may be enough to spoil his Lisbon Street investment.
“Frankly, I may not be able to get a loan for this because I have a suit hanging over my head,” Levesque said. “They want to do an attachment against my company and against me personally. So I can’t afford to do this work if I have to pay $64,000 to them. This is not a bottomless pit.”
Levesque said he plans to decide the fate of the new project by the end of this week based on what happens with the suit.
“It’s the one variable I cannot control,” Levesque said. “I can’t plan effectively for it and I can’t budget for it because there are so many unknowns. And I cannot have more unknowns on a speculative project like this.”
Levesque said he wants to do a full renovation of the building and develop 12 luxury apartments on the second and third floors. He would reserve the first floor for retail development.
“What I know is that there are 12 individuals who are willing to spend money to rent a luxury apartment in downtown Lewiston,” Levesque said. “It will have luxury apartments, an elevator, access to the parking garage, plus a rooftop deck. It has all those key things that people want when they want good, market-rate housing.”
Development costs are estimated to be about $1.3 million — maybe more, depending on the condition of the brick front under the aluminum facade.
“It should be beautiful, under that facade,” Levesque said. “It’ll take money to bring that back up. It’s there, we just have to peel back the layers.”
The lawsuit goes back to his other Lisbon Street investment, Argo Marketing. Levesque bought the former McCrory’s department store building at 64 Lisbon St., renovated it and moved his company’s headquarters and call center into the building in February 2014.
Before that, Levesque rented a floor of the Pontiac Building at 415 Lisbon St. from the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth subsidiary.
According to a December sworn affidavit by Lucien Gosselin, current manager of Southern Gateway and former executive director of the Growth Council, Levesque had signed a four-year lease due to expire this month.
In addition to rent, Argo was expected to pay all electrical, water and sewer charges, as well as property taxes for that space, Gosselin said. Argo complied with those conditions until March of last year, when it breached its lease, according to the deposition.
Gosselin declined to comment on the matter Wednesday.
“It is in litigation, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss this in the media,” Gosselin said.
The Marcotte building is home to Compass Coin and Jewelry, and Normand Rousseau said he’s ready to sell it. He’s owned it since 1995.
“My only concern is that I’m caught in the middle,” Rousseau said. “It’s their decision to resolve, either way. But these guys are here to encourage development and to attract new businesses here in town. Don’t you think they can find a way to work this out? I don’t know why they can’t reach some kind of happy medium.”