Update: Central Maine Heathcare says no to Bates Mill, lays off 28

LEWISTON — Before developers can begin construction on the $70 million redevelopment of Bates Mill No. 5, some cleaning needs to be finished. 

According to City Administrator Ed Barrett, the city recently applied for a $200,000 federal cleanup grant to help address the environmental issues at the site. The cleanup is considered a necessity in order for developers to receive the proper financing for the project. 

That means removing materials such as lead paint, asbestos and fluorescent light fixtures and ballasts that have remained in the mill since its closure in 2000.  

A successful acquisition of the grant would go a long way toward advancing the development timeline, developer Tom Platz said Wednesday. He’s hoping that if all the necessary pieces fall into place, construction could start in the summer of 2018. 

Platz’s company, Platz Associates, has been redeveloping the Bates Mill complex for years, restoring economic activity to the site that once employed some 5,000 people. Bates Mill No. 5, the largest of the buildings at 350,000 square feet, is the final step. 

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Allan Turgeon, the Bates Mill property manager who was on-site Wednesday, said the Bates Mill No. 5 project “will change the face of Lewiston.” 

Turgeon said a lot of environmental work has already been done at the building, and the grant would allow it to be finished.

Barrett said the city expects to hear whether it receives the grant by this summer or fall. He said there are concerns over the potential impact of President Donald Trump’s recent order halting federal Environmental Protection Agency grants. Delaying the grant could delay the entire project’s timeline, he said.

However, David Madore, director of communications, education and outreach for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday, “No Maine grants are affected by the president’s recent order.”

“The Bates Mill No. 5 project and other Brownfields grant applications are still competing through the competitive selection process,” he said.

The EPA’s Brownfields Program provides grants and technical assistance to communities, states, tribes and others to assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse properties with hazardous materials.

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Platz said his company will not close on the sale of the building until after the environmental cleanup is complete. He said if the city receives the grant, work would most likely be done next winter. 

Barrett said Brownfields grants tend to support economic development, which may help to exempt them from a federal hold. 

“This is a challenging project given its size and the amount of investment involved,” he said. “Anything we can do to improve the ability for financing to go forward on the project is advantageous.”

In the meantime, Platz said, the remaining pieces include locking up more tenants, design work to meet state and federal historic preservation requirements, and the final joint development agreement with the city.

Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston’s director of economic and community development, said the grant process is competitive, but that the city’s track record with the Environmental Protection Agency should help secure the funding. 

According to city records, the city has utilized over $2.6 million in Brownfields assessment and cleanup grants. Much of the funding has gone toward environmental concerns in many of the existing mills, including the Bates Mill complex.

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The Bates Mill No. 5 redevelopment process has been lengthy — and almost didn’t happen. 

In 2012, the city’s redevelopment plan for the entire area, the Riverfront Island Master Plan, called for the demolition of the No. 5 building.

Gabrielle Russell, an architect now employed by Platz Associates, fought to save the mill with the then-burgeoning organization Grow L+A.

A year ago, the City Council voted to give Platz Associates another year to work out the financial details. Over the years, the city had been spending considerable funds to keep the building functioning.

Barrett and Jeffers said the City Council is set to convene soon to discuss the joint development agreement, which will stipulate the details of a public-private partnership between the developers and the city. 

Platz said the details could include the city’s expansion of the parking garage and bridge to the mill building, as well as potential improvements on Mill and Main streets.

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“We’ll have an agreement that’ll be ready to go, and it will become part of the closing,” he said.  

Barrett said in crafting the agreement, the city will “have to take a hard look at the economics of the project as it affects the city.” 

“We’re going to have to weigh the cost of those public investments against the revenues and economic benefit that would be produced if the project comes to fruition,” he said. 

Platz said Central Maine Healthcare and the YMCA of Auburn-Lewiston are still set to be core tenants of the building. Both groups have laid out plans to use 75,000 square feet each and work together. 

Since last year, Central Maine Healthcare has undergone a change in leadership, but it’s unclear what affect, if any, it could have on the organization’s intentions. Jeff Brickman succeeded Peter Chalke as president and CEO in September 2016. 

A request for comment from Central Maine Healthcare was not returned Wednesday. 

Platz said his company has been conducting weekly meetings with potential tenants and that interest remains strong. 

He said there are a number of tenants who have committed, while others are looking at the property. He said potential tenants include a bakery, a small grocer, a light manufacturing company and day care providers that would work with the YMCA.

The company is working with tenants to develop floor plans, he said.  


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