LEWISTON — Speculation. Criticism. Predictions galore.

Local business owners, politicians and residents quickly turned to social media to either pick apart or support a potential large-scale retail, commercial and hotel development at Exit 80.

On Monday, Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s economic and community development director, told the Sun Journal that developer Dave Gendron approached city officials with word that a major retailer wants to set up shop at the Maine Turnpike exit in Lewiston, along the northbound lane.

The unnamed retailer will construct a 158,600-square-foot space if Gendron first blasts ledge on the property, relocates a major pipeline, builds a retaining wall and cuts rock for road access. The city will be asked to pay to extend water and sewer lines, among other improvements, and to approve a long-term tax break for Gendron to help him recoup those upfront costs.

A number of Sun Journal readers are excited about the prospect of big retail on the Lewiston side of the Androscoggin.

Judy Gervais of Lewiston supports retail development. “Currently the only places to buy women’s clothes in Lewiston are Goodwill, Salvation Army and Marden’s. We are the second-largest city in the state. I think we can support a real store if we actually get one.”


Jamie Everett said, “This project needs to happen. People traveling to Portland or Augusta to shop when they can shop right in our backyard.” Everett is hopeful “this project is only the beginning for what is in store for this land.”

The anchor retail store, as proposed, would be larger than a Home Depot, which is about 100,000 square feet, but smaller than a Wal-Mart Supercenter, about 200,000 square feet. Readers are pulling for a Target, Costco Wholesale, Trader Joe’s, Christmas Tree Shops or Market Basket. One couple say they hope it’ll be a Bass Pro Shop.

But a number of downtown business owners and others who have been active in downtown redevelopment aren’t so eager.

Eric Potvin, vice president of Great Falls Development Group and a former Planning Board member, is highly critical of the plan, calling the long-term potential $4 million in property taxes a “fairy tale,” and suggesting the city would be better off filling existing historic buildings downtown before funding expensive improvements for new construction.

He’s bothered that Gendron is asking taxpayers for assistance for “costs that are ‘extraordinary’ (and) therefore detrimental to the feasibility of the development.”

That’s because, Potvin posted, “the site is on a huge freakin’ hill of ledge 40 feet up in the air away from the nearest roads and utilities.”


He called it a “bad site for development” and questioned why the city should help pay for it, particularly when “big box development is a trend that has passed us and is declining.”

Potvin posted, “If the city were looking out for the best interest of its residents and our future, creating the most jobs, the greatest return on investment, and not simply growth for the sake of growth, then they would be making investments along existing infrastructure. Particularly in our beautiful downtown buildings.”

Jeremiah Bartlett of Auburn, a former design engineer at VHB Engineering in Massachusetts and currently employed as a transportation planner for Gorill-Palmer Consulting in Gray, according to information he provided to the Sun Journal for his 2015 Auburn City Council candidate profile, is also arguing against development.

If the entire 426 acres of Gendron property at the Maine Turnpike exit were developed — not just the 56 acres under current consideration — the property would eventually generate $4.1 million in property taxes, according to city officials. 

Bartlett calculates that equals $9,467 per acre in tax revenue compared to $21,569 per acre in tax revenue for outer Lisbon Street properties, and $50,556 per acre for downtown properties, which have higher assessed values.

Bartlett, who was among those advocating to establish a bike lane on Lisbon Street, points to what he calls “wasted infrastructure at the Promenade Mall at Lisbon and East, and more at East and Sabattus” as better sites for development than Exit 80.


“The resulting development” at the turnpike “will take on a sprawling form not inclined to creative reuse, with a lot of added utility and roadway work that Lewiston will own. Forever. So … the taxpayers in Lewiston will own it. Forever,” he posted.

“In economic and infrastructure development terms, it’s a quick hit, but not the long fix,” Bartlett said of the Gendron proposal.

Auburn Mayor Jonathon LaBonte, director of Gov. Paul LePage’s Office of Policy and Management, is also critical of the plan, suggesting Lewiston is “setting a course toward municipal bankruptcy.”

In Auburn, he said, the city is starting to see assessed value in big-box stores fall. “The buildings in those areas don’t retain value like other areas in town do.” He also said there are hidden costs with big-box development, including increased police response for theft and car accidents, neither of which tax-increment financing reimbursements cover.

“Auburn has some real-time examples of how we’re trying to manage the impacts of big-box,” he said, and Lewiston must be aware of those impacts.

Instead of big-box development at Exit 80, LaBonte suggests the Twin Cities ought to focus on developing the walking trail corridor from the downtown to Exit 80, and then build a village of shopping, commercial and residential space along that stretch.


“The lack of retail diversity is a challenge for L-A, but one that won’t be solved by the two cities building and subsidizing competing formula retail districts,” the mayor posted.

Michael Dostie — who owns J. Dostie Jewelers on Lisbon Street — also weighed in, cautioning the City Council from going forward.

“Do we want to be a residential city with a traditional downtown (think Old Port or Brunswick) or do we want to focus on making another South Portland (think Topsham or Auburn)?”

Dostie has been very vocal in supporting economic and cultural development in the downtown, and said councilors must take the long view when considering development, and not jump when a major retailer shows up.

On Tuesday, Dostie said it wasn’t his intention to come out aggressively against the proposal, but he felt compelled to raise the question: “Is this something that fits in the model that we’ve been working on the last five years? Ten years?”

The “City Council needs to pick a direction and stick to it, grow a set and say ‘no’ to organizations or companies that are proposing a deviation from that vision when they ask for taxpayers’ help. Until we have that vision, the city will wallow in a mishmash of development,” he said.


“I want to make sure everybody is kind of grounded,” Dostie said Tuesday, and “we’re not jumping from one perceived opportunity to another perceived opportunity just because it happens to be there.”

Potvin and others have also taken issue with the way the City Council will consider the Gendron proposal — at a preliminary workshop held just before Christmas and a final meeting just before the new year — to take action creating the city’s first Omnibus TIF District before the newly elected council is seated.

Part of that action would be to allow further, smaller TIF agreements within the omnibus district.

The first TIF agreement would cover 56 acres of Gendron’s property, where the retail anchor would build. The agreement would be structured so new property taxes would first be used to repay the city for its development costs, and then 40 percent of the new tax revenue would go to Gendron to help cover his costs.

On Monday, Jeffers said the city has been negotiating with Gendron for months, which means the presentation to the council is not as sudden as it may seem.

While the public may just now be learning about the project, Council Chairman Mark Cayer said the City Council has been working for months on the plan.


“This council has invested a lot of work into two projects, one being Exit 80 and another being announced by other folks, which is Bates Mill No. 5,” he said Tuesday.

After months of work, when it appeared the Exit 80 project would come to fruition, Cayer said, councilors encouraged city staff to pull the details together so the current council could take action because “we’ve invested a lot of work in this” and councilors want to see it through.

Cayer said the project is solid. “The numbers are there,” and he believes the public will support the plan once it has been explained. “If things don’t go as expected over the next couple of meetings, if the public needs more time, that could change,” Cayer said, but he expected the public would embrace the deal, which will be developed in many parts.

While the council may approve the Omnibus TIF District, Cayer said, “That doesn’t mean the whole district is approved” for development. “Every single project (within the TIF district) will have to be vetted by the sitting council” at the time, he said, so each step of development will get public scrutiny.

Cayer said scheduling the council workshop Tuesday and the decision to take action next week is “not the developer pushing us to get this moving. We’ve done the work and we think it’s ready to move.”

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Presentation of Potential Joint Development and TIF Agreements – Exit 80

Lewiston City Council Workshop

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