Steel Service Center moves to a new home, leaving behind a building with history and future potential.

LEWISTON – When Bob Roy Jr. moves his steel company from Bates Street to a roomier facility on outer Lisbon Street, it’s only his business that’s leaving the downtown – not his involvement.

Roy, whose great-grandfather emigrated from Canada to start a trucking company here more than 100 years ago, has grand plans for the old Maine Central train station, home to his Steel Service Center for the past 38 years.

Roy hopes to redevelop the train depot into 25,000 square feet of office or retail space, preserving a historic building while retrofitting it for a modern tenant.

“It’s a prime location,” said Roy, noting the nearby Androscoggin River and proximity to Main Street. “First, I’d like to attract the right client, then probably build to suit.”

The property has plenty going for it, including parking for up to 130 vehicles. Built in 1916, the depot is bordered by rail lines on one side and the river on another. Its brick exterior has a series of graceful curved arches and arcade windows, capped with a low gabled roof. Portions of the marble floor inside the lobby are still evident, as are marble, brass and mahogany fixtures in the second-floor offices.

A warehouse could be included in the renovation, while another building would likely be demolished to make way for parking and green space. Roy said the bones of the warehouse are great. An architect’s rendering of the project shows the warehouse converted into a modern, two-story building adjoining a fully restored depot.

“I think it can be done, I think it will look great,” he said.

He acknowledges he’s a little sentimental about the location, recalling the days when the company got its steel via rail and he unloaded gondola rail cars as a boy. But the space is now unworkable for a modern industry.

Trucks have a tough time negotiating the downtown traffic, and there’s little space for them to maneuver once on site. The storage and processing operations are spread among three buildings, making it difficult to streamline the work flow.

So Roy is moving the business into what was once Bob’s Discount Store and, earlier, the Coca Cola distribution plant. He gains about 10,000 square feet of space and the chance to bring his whole operation under one roof.

“It’s so much more efficient for us,” he said.

The new address is much closer to the turnpike, and the building has several loading bays, making life a lot easier for the truckers who often haul trailers with 60-foot-long steel beams. The city is happy that Roy is relocating his operation to an area more suited to light industrial use.

“We think this is a great move for Bob,” said Dave Hediger, city planner. “Potentially, the greatest thing is that Bob gets a system for his trucks and materials, and he gets them out of the downtown traffic flow.”

Roy hopes to be in his new home by mid-May. Crews are already preparing the space for things like overhead cranes with the capacity to move 30,000 pounds of steel at a time.

His timetable for the train depot renovation is less certain. The project, dubbed Ironhorse Plaza, has just started.

He put a new roof on the depot (removing the old slate roof, which had 1916 inscribed on the tiles) and has other updates planned. He knows it will be a lot of work and money, but feels his father – well-known for mill redevelopments – trained him well for the challenge.

“I learned a lot from him,” said Roy. “Work ethic was just part of it. I’m ready and enthused to take this to another level.”

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