It is time for Bates Mill No. 5 to come down.

There is neither glee nor remorse in this statement. It is simply a statement of fact. Only so long can taxpayers be expected to subsidize the massive building’s existence, as it awaits a redevelopment plan that may never arrive. The practical thing to do now is to end the suspense.

Knocking down the saw-toothed landmark will certainly sever a connection to Lewiston’s industrial heritage, but far from completely. Sentiments abound that buildings like Mill No. 5 must be preserved, at all costs, because once swept from the landscape, their grandeur and meaning will never be replaced.

That argument is sound, but myopic. The heritage of this city and region is not encased in the fate of one single mill building, however architecturally significant it might be. Mill No. 5 is but one link in the chain of mills that gave Lewiston its identity. It is not the symbol of the city’s proud history.

But it is a symbol – of changing times, of current economic conditions, of community pride. Lewiston stuck by Mill No. 5 longer than necessary because of pride in the city’s past.

There’s no going back to those times, however. The mills of those days are closed. All that’s left are buildings and sentiments.

The big mill is also a symbol of the problems of Lewiston’s present. Regardless of what the city does to better itself economically, aesthetically, socially or politically, the reputation of a rundown mill town is near impossible to shake, despite tremendous advancements.

The businesses and employment created by projects in and around the other Bates mills remain underappreciated wonders. These examples alone should be the symbols of Lewiston today and what it could be; as long as a decaying mill sits astride downtown, on taxpayer life support, they won’t be.

Bates Mill No. 5 is an eyesore. While its interior has been used for storage, which has offset some costs of its maintenance, the mill’s exterior has suffered. Some may still see beauty in its form; we, on the other hand, see a structure whose disappearance could only improve the look of downtown.

That said, demolition is not that easy.

In destroying Mill No. 5, new aesthetic concerns will arise, such as new prominence placed upon the rear of Lisbon Street. City officials must have an understanding of what removing Mill No. 5 from the landscape will do, and a plan to immediately remedy problems.

The decision to demolish seems hasty.

It didn’t need to be. There was plenty of time. Since it has been made, though, now is the time for thoughtfulness. The city must prepare for every contingency, every possible outcome, however far-fetched. There’s only one chance for this. It must be done right.

Plus, destroying the mill will also destroy goodwill among citizens and advocates who think the mill should remain until redevelopment occurs. The city cannot flub this chance, unless it runs the risk of forever alienating many important community voices.

Time passed by the mill once, when its textile operations ceased. Time passed by it again, when the recent epoch of easy money, copious credit and aggressive development – which saw many other mills in Maine and elsewhere transformed – crashed suddenly to Earth. Those times are gone.

And time has run out for Mill No. 5.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.