LEWISTON — The Cowan Mill and the spit of land it occupied has always had an important place in Lewiston’s economic history.

The city’s founders recognized the spot’s proximity to the rushing water of the Androscoggin River’s Great Falls as key to Lewiston’s industrial future. It was the site of Lewiston ‘s very first cotton mill

The Cowan Mill was built in 1850, the same year that first mill burned to the ground. It’s been used to mill cotton, flour, corn and to manufacture rubber soles. As Lewiston’s industrial fortunes waned in the late 1980s, the building went quiet. But local leaders and developers have never given up on the building. Here are some of the ways developers imagined using the Cowan Mill and its surroundings.

Office Space, October 1985

Portland Developer Bradley C. McCurtain unveiled his plans for Androscoggin Falls Plaza, a $3.5 million office development in the empty Cowan Mill building. The plan called for some renovations up front — including window work and a new elevator — but most would wait until tenants were found.

“Lewiston really has a lot going for itself,” McCurtain told councilors.  It is one of the few places in New England where you can live 10 minutes from work but still have access to a good quality of life.”

Business incubator, December 1986

Led by the Lewiston Development Corporation and the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council, community leaders hoped to invest $150,000 in local dollars to redevelop the building, making it useful for fledgling businesses. Space would be available for between $5 and $7 per square foot. Private investment, about $750,000, would have rounded out the capital needed to get started.

Arts and hotel complex, 1999

LA Excels, an ambitious planning group for the Twin Cities downtowns, included both cities’ riverfronts in their development proposal. It called for a hotel on the site of the Libbey Mill, and using the nearby Cowan Mill as an annex. A 1,000-seat performance space was proposed to replace the Central Maine Power substation along Main Street, and it would be ringed by a park devoted to the arts.

The former Bates Mill complex included a museum in the Bates Mill No. 5 building, and a convention center along Lincoln Street. Across Lincoln Street, the plan called for a hotel. An athletic path river walk was designed to mirror a similar path proposed for the Auburn side of the river.

Upscale condominiums, 2005

Developers Travis Soule and Vince Lobozzo unveil Island Point, their proposal to develop the land between Main Street and the Great Falls. It calls for 20 to 30 high-end condominiums, boutique retail and a four-star restaurant in the empty Cowan Mill, more condominiums in the remaining Libbey Mill — much of that building was destroyed in a 1999 fire — and a hotel years down the road. They expected work to wrap up in 2007 and cost about $6 million. The developers were unable to secure financing and the deal falters. The remains of the Libbey Mill are torn down in 2007.

Hotel, 2007

North Carolina-based hoteliers Winston Hotels Inc. announce plans for a 100-room hotel. Where the previous Island Point plan culminated in a new hotel,Winston and the city hoped to spur development at the Cowan Mill and the rest of the downtown with the new hotel.

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