LEWISTON — Food could be a big part of what saves Bates Mill No. 5 from demolition, according to the would-be saviors of the saw-tooth-roofed structure.

Members of the Farm-2-Five project focused on agriculture, food preparation and distribution at a discussion Wednesday night. They need help from farmers, restaurants and residents to hone the idea and make it work.

“None of us are food-systems experts,” said Shanna Rogers, who led Wednesday’s meeting. “That’s OK, because food systems are just one part of the project. But it’s a really important part, and so we need people who have that experience and that skill and expertise. We need them to join this conversation and share their wealth of knowledge.”

The Farm-2-Five effort is a being led by the Grow L+A group, a team of local marketing, design and planning professionals. The group’s biggest project so far is saving the Bates Mill building, making it home to a grocer, a health and wellness center and small businesses.

Residents at Wednesday’s discussion suggested the group enlist help from Lots to Gardens, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the local 4-H and food programs.

The Five-2-Farm plan calls for using the upper floors of the building as a greenhouse of some kind, but others suggested creating a commercial kitchen and food preparation area at the mill to turn downtown Lewiston into a hub of locally grown and produced food.


“How cool would it be to see a ‘Local in Lewiston’ sticker on the food you buy and feed to your family?” Rogers said. “That would be pretty great, and we are ready for that, I think.”

Grow L+A organizers say the renovation would cost $20 million to $30 million, according to the current plan. That would involve replacing all of the windows on the walls and the roof and repairing the concrete walls, floors and beams.

According to the plan, the group would secure ownership of the building this year — either by themselves or with the unnamed investors. They’d begin renovating and reopen it in 2014 — 100 years after it was built.

The space would include retail and light industrial uses, food processing, a year-round farmers market, community space and loft-style apartments.

The City Council has put aside $2.5 million in bonds toward the building’s demolition, but councilors voted in April to give the group until Oct. 3 to present a complete, fully thought-out plan to resurrect the building. The group already has met an earlier deadline, showing councilors financial forecasts and letters of interest from investors committed to using 100,000 square feet of space in the renovated building.

The building was designed by architect Albert Kahn, a renowned American industrial designer and is one of the first to use reinforced concrete. It has two floors, each covering 145,000 square feet, and its own hydroelectric generation facility in the basement. Construction began in 1912 and wrapped up early in 1914.

The city has owned the building since 1992 and it’s been used as storage since 1999.


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