LEWISTON — Developer Tom Platz’s Bates Mill will get to hold onto its option to buy Bates Mill No. 5 for $1 and spend $70 million to redevelop it, councilors decided by a 5-2 vote Tuesday.

“I think this project is one of the most important in the city’s history — especially something of this scale and especially in our downtown,” Councilor Jim Lysen said. “It has a lot of implications for the residents of this area.”

Platz and his group have signed letters of intent from Central Maine Healthcare and the YMCA of Auburn-Lewiston to be the anchor tenants in the project, occupying about 150,000 square feet in the 350,000-square-foot building but have not signed leases. Platz hopes to get signed leases from both within the next few months.

He’s also negotiating leases with smaller tenants, enough to occupy at least another 50,000 square feet of the building. Signed leases for at least 200,000 square feet would let him begin working with banks to finance the $70 million construction.

The option extension did have some opposition on the council. Ward 2 Councilor Tim Lajoie wanted to shorten the term of the option from one year to 60 days, requiring Platz and his group to come back and make a full presentation to the City Council, the Planning Board and the Finance Committee within 45 days.

Councilor Mike Lachance joined Lajoie, saying the scope was too big and the impact on the city potentially too much to approve the option for a year.

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“I remind the council that the residents and taxpayers of this city are the shareholders of the city, this corporation,” Lachance said. “They own the building. It’s not the city’s or the City Council’s. If we are going into an option at this point without really knowing what the economic impact is, I believe a 60-day limit to bring it back to the council to gather more information is in our best interest.”

Robert Reed, chairman of the city Finance Committee and a former city councilor, agreed.

“Every year, we wrestle with this, and guess what?” Reed said. “It’s still here.”

Reed said he prefers to put the entire matter up to a non-binding public vote.

“I personally am tired of the project,” he said. “I appreciate the time Mr. Platz has put into it. But there comes a time when you have to decide either to demolish it or sell it off and be done with it.”

But the no votes and voices were not the majority Tuesday night. Former City Councilor Marc Cayer said he has faith in Platz and in the hospital’s involvement. Rushing them to develop a $70 million deal could kill it, he said.

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“Recognize that 60 days could mean the difference between one of the largest employers and the largest developers walking away,” Cayer said. “Giving them a year costs us nothing.”

“Who is he going to attract?” Mayor Robert Macdonald said, sounding frustrated. “Right now, they are looking at us and we send a message to the people he wants in there, that we have a City Council that’s not really sure.”

Councilors started negotiating an option agreement with the group Grow L+A in 2013. That led to the February 2015 agreement with Platz’s Bates Mill LLC.

Platz said the group has been busy completing engineering studies of the building, working on designs and speaking with tenants. He’s brought on a historic consultant to help them qualify for federal historic preservation grants, as well.

According to the option, the city would expand the Lincoln Street garage, connect it to the main building via a bridge and add new curbs and drainage to Mill Street. The project would be funded with new property tax revenues, paid by Bates Mill No. 5 and parking revenues.

Lewiston Economic Development Director Lincoln Jeffers said those plans, a joint development agreement and tax incentives would need to come to the council for a full vote before the project can proceed.

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