LEWISTON — When prospective tenants tour the Bates Mill Complex — and at least three companies have in the last month — Tom Platz asks how soon they might like to move in.

Six to eight months, Mill 2 could work. Ten months to a year, maybe Mill 1.

If they’ve got two years, he suggests they consider Mill 5.

After years of hoping to redevelop the massive, 350,000-square-foot mill that the city reluctantly took over 26 years ago, Platz still feels like it’ll happen.

And that it’s not that far off.

Lewiston city councilors are expected to vote Tuesday on giving Platz a three-year extension on his option to buy Bates Mill 5, which he says would feel “less ominous” than the past yearly extensions.

He didn’t ask for the longer term but, “I’m open to whatever they want to offer us,” Platz said.

His hope within those three years: “That we’ll have our tenants ready, we’ll get it designed and we’ll get it under construction.”

In the past year, Platz has modified his approach to the enormous project. What had been considered a $70 million renovation could become two $35 million projects if he tackled Mill 5 one half at a time, he said.

“The way we’ve figured on it is a major corridor down the center: we could do everything on one side of it, put up a wall to the other side, redo the roof far enough along so it’s not going to leak on anything new,” Platz said. “The (Auburn-Lewiston YMCA) is committed; it would really be another tenant a little bigger than half of the Y,” or a few smaller tenants, that could trigger moving on the first half.

Gabrielle Russell, an early Mill 5 proponent, now an architect at Platz Associates, said she’s done the groundwork for state and federal historic tax credits so those can be pursued as soon as they have enough leases in hand.

The University of Maine last summer publicly expressed interest about moving Lewiston-Auburn College downtown, possibly into Mill 5, and with the Y, that would be enough to start the redevelopment, but it hasn’t committed.

Spokesman Bob Stein said Friday that the system has decided to first look at “what new programming we might be offering in the coming years there. Once that is determined, it’ll help drive our decision-making on location.”

Over the past 12 years, Platz has already developed 490,000 square feet in the rest of the Bates Mill Complex. Mill 6, which houses Fish Bones American Grill, among others, is full. Mills 3 and 7, which house TD Bank, are full.

The Mill 2 wing and storehouse are full with tenants such as DaVinci’s Eatery. Mill 2 proper, home to the Lofts at Bates Mill, has 60,000 square feet left to be developed.

Mill 1, with Museum L-A, has 150,000 square feet left.

“The council asked the other night, aren’t we competing against ourselves, having space in 1 and 2 and trying to sell 5 and we find we’re not,” Platz said. “Four people I’ve met with (including University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College), they couldn’t go in any mill other than Mill 5. A typical classroom is 30-by-30 and our column space is 30-by-30. In the other mills, it’s 18-by-8; you’d have columns all through the classroom, which you can’t do.

“Same thing with the Y — they couldn’t go in the other mills,” he said. “We’ve got to take columns out for them, even in Mill 5, for the pool and the gym, so it’s a very different building.”

Platz has a tour planned next week with a light manufacturing textile company looking for space.

“I don’t think 1 and 2 would be suitable for them, so I’ll show them 5, and then, again, we’ve got to talk about their timeline,” he said. “Can they wait two years?”

A report to the City Council last week by Lewiston’s head of economic and community development noted the complex’s immense issues in 1992, calling the complex “the proverbial white elephant, a rotting hulk of a building” with interior leaks so bad in a few of the mills that hoses had been run out the windows.

As the rest of the complex has come back to life, there have been off-again, on-again arguments over the years about whether to just knock Mill No. 5 down.

Platz said Mill 5 is structurally stable with a lot of water damage, but can be turned around. Mills 7 and 3 were especially rough when he tackled them, he said.

He estimated there are now 1,600 people living or working in the complex. 

“When people ask us, why does it make a difference, why do we care if people work down here? That’s a lot of money to spend in our community,” Platz said. “There were 5,000 working there when they were a full-tilt textile mill. We’d love to see it the same. I don’t know if we can hit that or not; we’ll come close.

“People don’t realize, they really don’t, how much these mills meant to this town,” he added.

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A map of Lewiston showing in pink the part of the Bates Mill Complex that’s largely been redeveloped. In green, Bates Mill No. 5, and in yellow, for scale, downtown Lewiston. “For us to develop this mill is more than half of all the space in that downtown area of Lewiston,” said Tom Platz. “It kind of puts it in perspective of how big this space is — it’s a lot of space.” (Platz Associates)

One of Platz Associate’s “before” shots of Bates Mill No. 6. Tom Platz is hoping to get a three-year extension this month on his option to buy and redevelop Bates Mill No. 5 next door.

One of Platz Associate’s “after” shots of Bates Mill No. 6.

One of Platz Associate’s “after” shots inside Bates Mill No. 6, Fish Bones American Grill.

One of Platz Associate’s “before” shots inside Bates Mill No. 6.


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