LEWISTON – The renovation of the old McCrory’s building is one of the victims of the continued computer billing problems between Augusta and health care providers.
In November 2005, Alex Tessmann of PROTEA Behavioral Health Services announced plans to renovate the deteriorating department store into 50 offices for a cadre of mental health professionals. Sweetser, a Saco-based provider of mental health services, had signed on as the main tenant of the building, green lighting the $1 million renovation of the 22,000-square-foot building.
But a new computerized billing system the state Department of Health and Human Services rolled out in early 2005 was plagued with problems that delayed payments to health care providers across the state. Despite directives from the governor to fix the problem, billing delays continued.
The disruption contributed to Sweetser’s decision to put its expansion plans on hold, said Celeste Viger, spokeswoman for the state’s biggest behavioral health agency.
“There were a lot of external factors,” said Viger, citing the billing debacle as one. “We just decided to reserve our capital for essential programs and services rather than bricks and mortar.”
Viger said the project isn’t off the table for Sweetser, but didn’t know when it might be reviewed in the future.
Lincoln Jeffers, economic development chief for Lewiston, said without Sweetser as a firm tenant, Tessmann has to look at other options.
But the more urgent concern for the city is to improve the building’s facade.
Once the renovation work ceased, the former store’s street-level display windows were boarded up with plywood.
“It looks a little rough right now,” Jeffers said. “We’d like to at least get the front looking good.”
The building sits across the street from Fuel, a new, upscale restaurant that is expected to open next month, and adjacent to the city’s revamped Courthouse Plaza.
Jeffers said he believes the front of the building could look presentable for about $50,000 and there’s money available in the city’s facade grant program. But that program requires matching funds.
“I’ve been talking with Alex,” Jeffers said. “The renderings of the building were great. I’m hoping we can get some movement here.”