LEWISTON — Bates Mill No. 5, the hulking, former mill building at the city’s gateway, could have at least three years added to its long history.

The City Council is scheduled to vote next week to extend a redevelopment option with Platz Associates after consecutive, one-year extensions have come and gone without significant movement on the project.

At a City Council workshop Tuesday, both city officials and members of the public took up what has become an annual debate over the future of the historic building.

After the city took over the property in 1992, there have been decades of discussion on whether to demolish or redevelop the property. While Platz has bought and slowly redeveloped the rest of the Bates Mill complex, Mill No. 5, the largest of the properties, has proven more difficult.

The announcement last year that a proposed anchor tenant, Central Maine Healthcare, was pulling out of the project was the latest blow.

Developer Tom Platz told the council Tuesday that the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA is still interested in moving into the mill, and that he is in discussions with other possible tenants, such as the University of Southern Maine.

“I’m feeling positive that it would move forward, but it takes a lot of time,” he said Tuesday. “Unless you have something better going there, I think it would be wise to wait.”

Many councilors said a longer extension — rather than a year — would give the effort some breathing room. However, Mayor Shane Bouchard and Councilor Michael Marcotte said if they were to support it, they would rather have a reworked three-year option rather than a simple extension.

“I want to make sure it’s something different than what we’ve had,” Marcotte said.

The current option between the city and Platz expires Feb. 28.

On Tuesday, Platz said that the other buildings in the complex are still seeing interest and are nearing capacity. He said he has been able to renovate the mills at a lesser price per square foot than for new construction, and believes the same would occur at Mill. No. 5.

But if another developer came in with the funding and wanted to demolish and rebuild, Platz said he is willing to step aside.

“I’m not trying to hold up any kind of progress,” he said. “I would love to have a little more time. Let’s keep trying to take a shot at this.”

During the meeting, Bouchard asked if the city should consider sending out another request for proposals to potential developers. Last year, Bouchard voted against extending the option.

In 2015, the city gave Platz an option to buy Mill No. 5 for $1. The company planned to spend about $70 million to renovate it into a health-and-wellness center for Central Maine Medical Center and the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA, with additional space for offices, a small grocery and other businesses.

The option agreement with Platz has since been extended twice, including a year ago when the City Council barely extended the option by a 4-3 vote.

However, a week before the City Council vote last year, Central Maine Healthcare announced it was no longer pursuing the project. Despite the setback, Platz said he didn’t think it would stop the project.

According to a memo to the council from Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community relations, Platz has spent more than $700,000 on engineering, design, feasibility studies and other efforts toward redevelopment. That is in addition to the 490,000 square feet of space the company has redeveloped in the rest of the mill complex over the past 20 years.

During the workshop, Jeffers said the redeveloped mills generate $921,000 annually in taxes.

“We’re at a crossroads again,” he told the council, adding that Platz “remains committed.”

For development to move forward, the city would first have to conduct environmental mitigation at the building, where there is lead paint and asbestos. Jeffers said that work amounts to $1.1 million, and Lewiston is still waiting to hear if they will be awarded a $200,000 EPA Brownfield grant to help.

Jeffers’ memo said a leaking roof is “accelerating physical deterioration in portions of the building.”

Councilor Zach Pettengill said that ever since his time on the Planning Board, he has heard that people want to “protect Lewiston.”

“There’s nothing more quintessential ‘Lewiston’ than Bates Mill 5,” he said. “I trust Tom.”
Pettengill said that while the effort continues, however, the city should “dress up the property” with lighting or art.
Platz said he has been in discussions with a New York artist who is interested in developing a sculpture walk, beginning at the mill and going into downtown Lewiston.
Councilor Jim Lysen told Platz, “Your history here is encouraging me to say let’s stick to our guns.”
Others speaking in favor:  Gabrielle Russell and Peter Rubins from Grow L+A.
Despite some optimism, Finance Committee Chairman Robert Reed said that “year after year” the council tells the public it will be the last year the option is extended, and then a new council keeps the project afloat.
“The day of reckoning is once again here, but will this council see it?” Reed said.
Planning Board Chairman Bruce Damon told the council that Mill No. 5 “is a daunting challenge that is going to take many, many years to overcome.”

He said No. 5 is a “different story” than the rest of the mills that have seen success.

“Until we admit it and make it go away,” Damon said, “we’re just going to go around and around.”

A 2008 report estimated demolition costs at between $3.1 million and $4.3 million.

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(Sun Journal file photo)

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