The Bates Mill Complex, which stretches from Chestnut Street to Main Street, was acquired by the city of Lewiston in 1992 when Bates fell behind on payment of its real estate taxes. At that time, studies were conducted by the city, concluding that investing in redevelopment was the preferred option over incurring the cost of demolition.

Taxpayers approved moving forward and, in 1993, the city created the first redevelopment plan. The Lewiston Mill Redevelopment Corp. was formed and consisted of city staff, elected officials and private citizens.

LMRC quickly realized it needed expertise from private sector developers. Platz Associates, an Auburn architecture and engineering firm, was hired in 1996 to provide design services and help plan the redevelopment. LMRC marketed the property and leased space to a variety of users, while environmental clean-up began in other parts of the mill.

After the site was cleaned up, the Platz team formed Bates Mill LLC and bought most of the mill from the city in 2004 and embarked on redevelopment.

To date, 490,000 square feet of space has been redeveloped. Bates Mill LLC and its tenants have invested more than $70 million in the complex.

Because of that, the Bates Mill is now home to Class A office space, medical offices, restaurants, Androscoggin Bank, TD Bank, Baxter Brewing Co., Grand Rounds, Cross Insurance and more, including 48 residential apartments.

These investments have increased the total assessed value of taxable real and personal property to more than $37 million and the mills now generate $921,000 in annual taxes.

More than 1,500 people work or live in those renovated buildings. When the final piece of the mill complex — Mill No. 5 — is renovated, it is expected that $60 million will be invested. The city assessor has estimated that will generate an additional $560,000 to $924,000 in new property taxes at the current rate.

What is the other option  — demolition? Bates Mill No. 5’s structure is integrated with the adjacent canal’s structure and also houses massive turbines that were once a power source for the mills.

Those turbines are not owned by the city, so any demolition efforts would have additional costs to assess and stabilize the structure of the canals, as well as build something to house the turbines. The 2008 Bates Mill Task Force estimated it would take $3.1 to $4.3 million for partial demolition of Bates Mill No. 5. That would place immediate burdens to taxpayers and would leave the city with an empty site and a direct view to the backs of all of the buildings along Canal Street.

Pursuing demolition would increase debt, remove taxable value and leave a five-acre site where there has been little demand for large scale new development. Island Point stands across Main Street and is an example of a site ready for development that has seen little serious interest in the past nine years since the Cowan Mill burned in 2009.

Most people forget what other parts of the Bates Mill Complex looked like before redevelopment. The large brick buildings were decaying and dirty, the windows were broken or boarded up and there was very little green space (much like what Mill No. 5 looks currently).

Because of the investments since 2004, it is a very different picture today. People are able to eat dinner on DaVinci’s patio, while they can hear music and watch the water cascade around the fountain in the courtyard. It is a stunning example of what can be done with the buildings and infrastructure that are already there.

The unique space the mills offer is a major advantage Lewiston has over other communities. A business can start a new office in the Bates Mill Complex for far less money than leasing comparable space in other urban areas.

The cost of renovation of the Bates Mills has been consistently 25 percent less than new construction (approximately $180 per square foot). Additionally, Bates Mill No. 5 is eligible for incentives, including historic tax credits, but only if the building is redeveloped — 20 percent in federal tax credits and 25 percent in Maine tax credits are available.

After that incentive is taken into account, the cost per square foot is reduced to $120 (approximately 50 percent less then the cost of construction of new Class A office space). Alternately, Class A office space in a new building would likely cost $250 per square foot and would not touch the unique character of the mills.

Redevelopment makes the most sense, both financially and aesthetically. Right now, Lewiston is faced with two options. The first is to allow Platz’ development team to have more time to continue solidifying tenants for Bates Mill No. 5.

The second option is to take on one of the largest demolition projects in the city’s history. That would result in an immediate cost to taxpayers and would leave another vacant lot in Lewiston’s downtown with no guarantee of results.

Gabrielle Russell is a member of the Bates Mill LLC development team and is an architect with Platz Associates. She lives in Lewiston.

Gabrielle Russell

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