LEWISTON — With a few swings of a gold-painted sledgehammer Thursday, local and state officials kicked off work on The Lofts at Bates Mill.

“As you can appreciate, it’s kind of hard to break ground on this building,” developer  Nathan Szanton said. “Since the project is to put housing inside the mill and the building is already built, what we’re going to do now is swing a sledgehammer.”

Szanton plans to build 48 mixed-income units on several floors of the Bates Mill Building No. 2 this spring and summer at a cost of $9.8 million. Work should wrap next fall, with a grand opening scheduled in November, he said.

A handful of model units on the fifth floor of the building should be ready to show in July, he said. 

“To me, the empty shell in which we are standing symbolizes the Lewiston mill district’s tough past half century, when jobs began streaming out of these buildings,” Szanton said. “The enormous construction activity that’s about to be unleashed on this very spot symbolizes the bright future that is in store for this district.”

When it’s finished, 33 of the units will have subsidized rents and 15 will rent for the going market rate. Maine Housing loaned $5.2 million in low-income housing tax credits, and Szanton said the project depended on them.

“The project, I think exemplifies the good work that Maine Housing does, and (Director Dale McCormick) and Maine Housing should get some credit for this.”

McCormick said the project did exactly what her agency tries to do.

“We try and do three or four things with every dollar,” McCormick said. “So when we invest our scarce resources in this kind of project, we are not only helping economic development and creating jobs, we are bringing people downtown and revitalizing it.”

That’s a key part of the project from the local perspective, according to Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett.

“One thing we’ve learned as we’ve looked at revitalizing and reinventing downtowns in urban settings, one of the best things you can do is get people living downtown,” Barrett said. “This project will do that. It will bring people into the mill complex for the first time in a residential setting and will show the market that projects like this can attract people.”

Szanton said his company is taking applications for tenants now.

Rents for single-bedroom units would start at $640 for the fair-market renters, with lower rents for publicly supported units. Section 8 recipients would qualify for $576 rents. Residents making 50 percent of the average median income could qualify for $483 rents.

Two-bedroom units in the development would rent for $701 for Section 8 recipients. Residents making 50 percent of the average median income could qualify for $577 monthly rent. 

Rents for three-bedroom units would begin at $896 for Section 8 and $665 for 50 percent average of median income residents.

Rents will include heat, hot water, Wi-Fi, off-street parking and access to a fitness center, computer room and home theater room.

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