LEWISTON — Including developer Tom Platz in a plan to save Bates Mill No. 5 convinced city councilors Tuesday night.

Councilors voted unanimously to let city staff begin negotiations to give the developer an option on the saw-tooth-roofed building between Main and Lincoln streets. It was a big change for a council that narrowly voted to stay the building’s demolition six months ago.

Councilor John Butler, one of the staunchest skeptics of the mill building’s potential, said it was Platz’s involvement that convinced him.

“Tom Platz is a good developer, proven, and he knows what he’s doing,” Butler said.

He also had praise for Grow L+A, the group that led the fight to save the building.

“They connected the dots and they did it right,” Butler said.


Platz has been involved in the nine-building Bates Mill Enterprise Complex since 1996. That’s when the city began renovating mill buildings and selling them to Platz and his business partners.

The city negotiated an exit strategy with Platz in 2006, giving him control of the bulk of the complex but not Mill No. 5 or the complex’s steam-generation plant. Platz has continued renovating the other mill buildings, with the city paying for parking and environmental cleanup.

Platz told councilors the Grow L+A plan made sense to him.

“I think this is the next logical step, to move forward at this point as we start to talk to tenants,” Platz told councilors. “They have brought forth a lot of great potential tenants. I think they brought it to where it needs to be, so the next step will be to secure it.”

The city has owned the building since 1992, and it has been used as storage since 1999. Councilors have planned many times to demolish the building, but put aside $2.5 million in bonds toward the demolition in their 2012-13 capital plan.

A Rhode Island architect made the building his senior thesis in 2011. His work caught the interest of local architects and developers, who formed Grow L+A around the idea of preserving and reusing the building. In April, they convinced councilors to give them time to come up with a plan and a developer to renovate the building. The group hosted several public meetings to discuss potential uses.


“We knew it was a lofty goal all the time, but we remained very hopeful and realistic about it,” said Peter Flanders, a vice president of Grow L+A.

Plans call for multiple uses, including a co-op grocery store, a health and wellness center, a growing center and business incubator space.

According to the group’s June report, the developers would begin renovations costing up to $30 million right away, including work on the concrete floors and walls and distinctive rooftop windows, and would open it in 2014.

Councilor Mark Cayer voted to give Grow L+A chance in April, but he said he remained cautious.

“This community has struggled with that building for 20 years,” Cayer said. “We decided to put an end to it one way or another — either someone would develop it or we’d do something to get it off of taxpayers’ backs.”

Cayer said he was excited by the project, and by Platz’s involvement.

“I think he has a history with this community, and some of the decisions he’s made in the past are coming to fruition,” Cayer said. “Truly, I think history has shown that it’s paying off. And I think if it keeps going in this direction for No. 5, history will show that as well.”

The building was designed by American industrial architect Albert Kahn and is one of the first to use reinforced concrete. It has two floors, each covering 145,000 square feet, and a hydroelectrical generation facility in the basement. It was built between 1912 and 1914.

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