LEWISTON – City leaders came closer to their longtime goal of cleaning up the western entrance after striking a deal to buy three lots on Main Street.

The site is at the end of Longley Bridge, where Lewiston Radiator Works and the former Hotel Holly greeted drivers entering the city. Those buildings were destroyed in a gas explosion and fire in January.

The city agreed to pay owner Richard Hollis $250,000 for the empty lots at 109, 103 and 95 Main St. The plan is to use that property as part of the redevelopment of nearby Bates Mill No. 5, which has been identified as a possible site for a conference center.

“This is a fair deal, with both a willing seller and a willing buyer,” said City Administrator Jim Bennett.

The price was based on a formal real estate appraisal, he said. “The price includes the full appraisal, plus just enough to not have lawyers get involved.”

The deal lets the city avoid using eminent domain laws to force a sale.

The city has been eyeing the lots for years. They were the last privately owned parcels on the block and stood in the way of what city leaders call the western gateway development district.

The district runs southwest and north from the intersection of Ash and Canal streets. It includes Bates Mill No. 5 and the Libbey Mill.

In April, the City Council began talks to take the land by condemnation, but instead opened negotiations with the owner. The item appeared on City Council agendas every two weeks since April 6, but Bennett asked councilors to table it each time while negotiations with Hollis continued.

The lots were valued at $89,400 for tax purposes, records show. The city originally offered to buy the property for $150,000. Hollis’ original asking price was $650,000.

On Wednesday, he said he was satisfied with the deal.

“I’m kind of happy it’s over because now I can move on,” Hollis said. “For a while, I was in a spot where I couldn’t do anything at all with the property.”

The sale price won’t cover the amount of business he would have done by staying there, he said.

“I’ve been there for 35 years. It would have been worth rebuilding in that spot for that reason alone.”

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