In this withering economy, Monday’s announcement by TD Banknorth was such welcome news. The bank is opening a new $16 million call center at the Auburn Mall and promising to create 250 new jobs in the process, which would put the center’s peak at around 500.

Auburn and state officials worked hard to bring this deal to fruition, blending the right amount of incentives and breaks to make it palatable and possible. And the bank, to its credit, fulfilled its vow to Lewiston-Auburn to continue and grow an already significant commitment to this region.

So far, TD Banknorth has been about the best corporate neighbor L-A could have asked for; more than one-third of its Maine employees are here, many  working in revitalized mills in downtown that have become synonymous, and symbolic, with the changing fortunes of the community.

This latest development may signal another evolution — from mills to malls, as it were. What should be recognized from TD Banknorth’s announcement is that the chosen site, a vacant retail space, is a unique location for a calling center that fits the needs of the company, the city and the landlord rather well.

The lagging retail sector — embodied by empty storefronts — has been emblematic of this recession; along with cars and houses, straightforward consumer spending has been hardest hit. Filling vacancies in high-profile retail developments, like malls, would have likely been a struggle going forward.

Turning these spaces over to different uses — like call centers — was a smart stroke of necessity. Instead of selling the floorspace to another retailer, with hopes of success, the TD Banknorth call center changes the overall purpose of the mall from mere commerce, into a living, breathing professional workplace.


Of course, there were always jobs at the mall. But these jobs have been historically dependent on the shoppers entering its doors. Establishing a 500-person office block inside the mall is something else entirely, and sounds — at first — as strange as turning an old textile mill into modern offices must have been, once.

In Lewiston, though, the success of that model is plain to see. The basics are the same: taking a structure designed for a different era and adapting it to modern uses. The Auburn Mall is not as old as the mills, nor considered with similar sentimentality, but its re-use was and is nonetheless warranted.

And may, in fact, be a harbinger of changing times to come. TD Banknorth’s investment into Auburn is license to consider possibilities for other areas, other properties, the vision for which might be pigeonholed by their former uses. Nothing is just what it seems.

Nor does anything have to be just what it is.

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