Amy Cullen, vice president at The Szanton Co., stands across Lisbon Street from The Hartley Block in Lewiston. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — Weeks from the official grand opening, developers behind The Hartley Block on Lisbon Street are on the verge of seeing 50 of its 63 apartments scooped up and talking to retailers and restaurants about the first floor.Since breaking ground, the $8.5 million project has gone as smoothly and on budget as hoped, Amy Cullen, vice president at The Szanton Co., said Tuesday.

Even a mid-project decision to dip into contingency funds to upgrade the exterior to stone composite panels paid off, she said.

“It was a really expensive upgrade, but we felt like we owed it to the city of Lewiston to really pay attention to that front facade,” Cullen said. “This is a sensitive location, this is Lewiston’s main economic and commercial district.

“In all the neighborhood meetings we had before we designed the project, all of the neighbors wanted us to make sure it was a beautiful building and not just a cheese box.”

A gym, children’s playroom and common area are available to residents of The Hartley Block. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Since March 20, 35 people have moved in and 15 more units will see renters over the next three weeks, she said.

A one-bedroom apartment starts at $550 for a subsidized rate and $850 for market rate.

Cullen said all of the market-rate units in the building are full.

“I think there’s a shortage of quality, market-rate housing in Lewiston, so they go really fast,” she said. “For people who can buy a house, that market is met. For people who need an affordable place, rent-restricted, those needs are kind of getting met, but the middle, where you make too much for a rent-restricted apartment but not enough for a house or a really nice apartment, you’re kind of stuck.”

The Hartley Block includes 4,007 square feet of dividable retail space on the street level. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Cullen projected all of the units will be rented by the end of June. She said she hopes to have at least a few open for the project’s grant opening May 31, so guests can look inside.

Before then, Szanton will host a one-day makers’ event May 18 sponsored by the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and L/A Arts in its future retail space that will show off the possibilities there.

The building has 4,007 square feet of retail space that can be divided for future use.

“At this point, we’re open to all offers,” Cullen said. “(We) would love to get artists in there. It feels like it goes with the building.”

The company has also talked to traditional retailers and restaurants, she said, but, as is, it might be too wide open to picture themselves moving in.

Before the project broke ground, that downtown block had been empty for more than a decade after fire destroyed several buildings.

“When we walked by this hole in the earth, we could envision what it could be,” Cullen said. “Business owners sometimes go into a completely blank area and can’t envision their own business in there. Once it’s a restaurant, another restaurateur can come in and say, ‘Oh yeah, I can see where the kitchen is.'”

The hallways are filled with Marsden Hartley reprints. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Two large mosaic interpretations of painter Marsden Hartley’s artwork will be installed on the front of the building before the grand opening, she said. Hartley, an American modernist painter, poet and essayist, was a Lewiston native.

Prints of his work also hang throughout the building. Cullen hopes details like that help toward Lewiston creating a defined arts district.

“Our whole business plan is to build and own and manage,” Cullen said. “We all live in Maine and we care about the communities we build in.

“We want the residents that live in them to be proud of where they live. We want the cities to be happy that they worked with us, because we always need a lot of city support.”

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