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 facts. 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 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 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 milltown 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 utilized 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 onto 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
farfetched. 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.

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