LEWISTON — Nice designs and good prices or not, councilors said Tuesday they’re not fans of a planned Lincoln Street parking garage built in the shadow of the Bates Mill No. 5 building.

Councilors have until March to act on bids to build the garage. If they approve, crews would plan to start work sometime this spring.

But councilors said Tuesday they’re not convinced about the project and they asked City Administrator Ed Barrett to look for alternatives — including different locations.

“We’re not saying a better solution is out there,” Councilor Stephen Morgan said. “We don’t know, but we need to look for one.”

Councilors were scheduled to review bids, designs and a site plan for the garage. The previous council approved going forward with a 375-space parking garage that would replace part of the parking lot southwest of the Bates Mill building at the corner of Main and Lincoln streets. It would include 6,600 square feet of retail space.

But Barrett cautioned councilors against getting into the retail business. The city of Bangor built a similar retail garage 17 years ago but never found tenants for it, he said.

“There is also a concern about the city going into competition with private developers,” Barrett said.

Councilors agreed but said that was the least of their concerns.

“I think this is some of the most important developable space in the city, and putting a parking garage there is not the best use for that land,” Mayor Larry Gilbert said. “What would that look like as the first view of the city, coming across the bridge?”

Plans call for building a four-deck garage between Lincoln Street and the sawtooth-roofed Bates Mill building. The parking garage would cost $4.9 million to build. Including the retail space would increase the cost by $600,000.

The garage is part of an effort to bring more parking spaces to the downtown as called for in a 2004 Bates Mill exit strategy with Platz Associates. According to that agreement, the city must provide 1,162 parking spaces through 2011, and no more than 450 spaces per year.

Lincoln Jeffers, assistant to the city administrator, said Lewiston is currently 18 months behind on its parking obligation. If the city defaults on the agreement, Platz would be allowed to use a $4 million city bond to build garages of his own.

Barrett said councilors are scheduled to vote to accept the bids at their Feb. 2 meeting. If they are not comfortable, he suggested councilors could table the matter until the Feb. 16 meeting.

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