LEWISTON — Developer Tom Platz said Thursday that Bates Mill No. 5 is a 30,000-square-foot commitment away from going after financing.

Work could start on the building in about a year, if all moves along as he hopes.

Signing those next leases and securing funding would be a significant milestone in a yearslong effort to redevelop the historic mill that has twice been saved from the city’s wrecking ball.

“Starting is a big thing,” Platz, of Auburn, said. “That could be a six-month process, financing a $50 million project. While we’re doing that, though, we’ll be designing, we’ll be getting pricing, doing bids; all of that takes time.”

Platz, a principal in the redevelopment of the rest of the Bates Mill complex, has an option on Mill No. 5 with the city that runs through February. 

He has spoken with four banks “who would love to finance this project,” he said. “I don’t think the financing will be difficult. It’s a complicated project; that’s why it takes the time.”

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Platz wasn’t ready to announce any new tenants for the 352,000-square-foot project. Plans still call for a new YMCA, a grocery store/”innovation center,” office space and the possible expansion of Baxter Brewing. He said he recently signed a lease for 10,000 square feet of office space.

More potential tenants are in process.

“I would say they’re committed, but they haven’t gone to their boards for approvals, so they’re not firmed up in that sense,” he said. 

A solid, 30,000-square-foot commitment would have the 103-year-old building more than half filled, Platz said.

He’s working on structuring lease agreements and rates. It’s taken more than 15 years to redevelop and fill nearly 400,000 square feet in the rest of the Bates Mill Enterprise Complex, Platz said.

“We have almost 2,000 people working there now, paying lots of real estate taxes to the city,” he said. “It’s been a good project, but it’s a long-term project.”

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Given that pace, he added, the Bates Mill No. 5 project “is moving right along.”

“To put it in perspective, if I were to say to you over the course of the next 36 months, ‘We’re going to build six of these Great Falls Plaza office buildings in downtown Lewiston’ — because that’s the equivalent — (nobody) would say that’s not good or not exciting,” Platz said. “They wouldn’t.”

He’s on pace to present plans to the city and exercise his development option before it expires.

YMCA CEO Steve Wallace said he’s still committed and “more excited every day” about his agency moving into the mill.

“When you add together the total revitalization of the mill, anchored by Maine’s most advanced, medically oriented fitness, wellness, aquatics and child care center, it can’t help but positively impact L-A’s economy and community health,” Wallace said in an email. “It’s a game-changer.”

The question of what to do with the iconic, saw-tooth-roofed mill has dogged Lewiston since the city reluctantly assumed ownership in 1992. In 2012, the group Grow L+A formed to save it and last week released a report exploring one potential option there, a food hub. Analysts found the time and marketplace weren’t right yet.

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“The reality is, it worked in a lot of ways,” former President Peter Flanders said. “The research hadn’t been done to figure out what would and wouldn’t work. We certainly hope a number of (food-related) entities end up in there and it becomes part of the healthy environment that seems to be growing in that mill in its development.”

Incoming President Shanna Cox said the hope is that other local groups will use some of the research in the report to carry on their own work.

Grow L+A is hosting small gatherings in the next week, leading to a public forum at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, at the Franco Center.

Cox said they want to ask residents for their thoughts on the report, how they see the food economy tying into Bates Mill No. 5 and what other economic development efforts would benefit the area.

“We would love to say, ‘Good job, Tom, the mill looks great,’ and check it off the list and move on to the next big thing,” Cox said. “I think that’s where Grow L+A sees itself.”

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