LEWISTON — Skeptics of a plan to redevelop Bates Mill No. 5 got to speak their minds Monday night as the City Council hosted a special workshop with its advisory boards to review the proposed development.

“I’ve been a pretty staunch supporter of demolishing this building for the last 10 years, and nothing I’ve seen so far indicates any reason for me to change my mind,” Planning Board Chairman Bruce Damon said. “When you come across from Auburn, what you see is an obsolete monstrosity blocking the view.”

Monday’s meeting wasn’t necessary to give developer Tom Platz permission to proceed or to cement a city position on the project.

Councilors voted last month to give Platz another year on his purchase option while the details gel, and Economic Development Director Lincoln Jeffers said a joint developers’ agreement and tax incentives will have to be negotiated during the next several months.

Councilor Tim Lajoie said the point of Monday’s special workshop was to bring more voices to the table.

“I don’t think it was a good idea for the council to go in one particular direction until everybody has sat in the same room and discussed it,” Lajoie said.

Platz plans to renovate the distinctive sawtooth-roofed building along Main Street, creating 350,000 square feet of usable space at a cost of $70 million.

Councilors have reviewed Platz’s proposal several times in executive session and once in a public workshop, but it was the Finance Committee and the Planning Board’s first formal review of the proposal.

Platz and his group have signed letters of intent from Central Maine Health Care and the YMCA of Lewiston Auburn to be the anchor tenants in the project, occupying about 150,000 square feet in the 350,000-square-foot building.

He’s also negotiating leases with smaller tenants, enough to occupy at least another 50,000 square feet. Signed leases for at least 200,000 square feet let him begin working with banks to finance the $70 million construction.

The advisory groups’ opinions Monday night varied from the extremely skeptical to the enthusiastic.

Finance Committee member Robert Reed was concerned about hidden costs.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see this developed,” Reed said. “I’m just skeptical at this point. We’ve been seeing this for 10 years and you get to the point: You have to question how this has not been maintained for so long, is their further deterioration we don’t know about?”

Platz said he has completed an engineering study and is confident it can be developed for $70 million.

“If we didn’t think we could do it, we wouldn’t be involved,” Platz said.

Damon said he didn’t see any point in saving the Bates Mill building, saying it was an ugly eyesore that deserved to be removed.

“In my mind this building was born ugly, as some post industrial statement,” Damon said.

But Planning Board members Pauline Gudas and Paul Madore were enthusiastically in favor of development.

“If it was anybody else developing this building, I might have the same opinion: tear it down,” Gudas said. “But I have seen the quality of Mr. Platz’s buildings and I think he can do the job. And something like this facility will be a jewel for the city of Lewiston. When you come across the bridge, it won’t look like an eyesore.”

Mayor Robert Macdonald continued his support for the project, warning that detractors sounded anti-business.

“We are talking about a building that he wants to develop, with his own money,” Macdonald said. “What’s the problem?”

Among councilors, only Mike Lachance spoke against the project.

“Bates Mill No. 5 was not built to be looked at. It was built to be surrounded by other buildings,” Lachance said. “It is an industrial production building inserted among other buildings that are no longer there. It is an onion in that regard. And putting deodorant on it might make it smell good for a while, but it is still an onion.”

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