While tour guide Allan Turgeon talked about the building’s history and members of Grow L+A talked about their plans to bring the building back to life, the architects wandered around in their own reverie, gazing up at concrete columns and looking out sooty windows.

The group, members of the Maine chapter of the American Institute of Architects, was in Lewiston on Monday for the semiannual awards ceremony.

The guided tour of the historic structure, marking the 100th year since it was completed, was a bonus.

“We don’t get to see inside buildings like this very often,” said Kathryn Wetherbee, a designer at Harriman Architects. “It’s fascinating for us to see the slice of history, the way things used to be done. And at the same time fascinating to see possibilities of what can be done.”

The AIA’s Maine chapter hosts an award ceremony every two years in a different part of the state. The most recent ceremony was in 2012 in Portland.

“We just agreed that Lewiston made so much sense this year,” Jeanette Schramm said. “We make sure we are in larger communities throughout the state where we have a larger number of members.”

Bates Mill No. 5, the saw-tooth-roofed building at the center of Lewiston’s downtown, was a draw, too. It’s historically significant, as one of the first remaining concrete structures built by American industrial architect Albert Kahn.

The building was designed by Kahn as one of the first in American history to use reinforced concrete. It has two floors, each covering 145,000 square feet, and a hydroelectric-generation facility in the basement. Construction began in 1912 and wrapped up early in 1914.

“This is the economic engine of our community,” said Turgeon, representing developer Platz Associates. “It always has been.”

The visit was timely, too, since local developers and community groups are working to save the building.

Grow L+A, working with developer Thom Platz, hopes to turn the massive building into a business center with multiple uses, including a co-op grocery store, a health and wellness center, a growing center and business incubator space.

Peter Flanders, a vice president of Grow L+A, said the group is wrapping up feasibility studies of the various business components of the project.

“We have to wrap these studies up,” Flanders said. “We need to do some grant writing. It’s just a process right now, to make it stay together and work together the right way.”

The AIA presented a special recognition in Kahn’s honor later, during the awards banquet.

“It’s in recognition of the 100-year anniversary of the building and an overall appreciation of the historical significance of the architecture,” Schramm said.

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