LEWISTON — A “transformation” plan for downtown Lewiston proposes a major face-lift at multiple sites, including a long stretch of Pine Street that is already under contract.

The proposal, shared with the City Council on Tuesday, is the result of a yearlong community planning effort through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, designed to revitalize struggling neighborhoods.

The 250-page plan envisions wholesale changes made through new and redeveloped housing, beautification projects and a focus on safety, health and education.

At the centerpiece of the proposal are several ambitious redevelopment projects, including a 66-unit, mixed-use development on Pine Street along Kennedy Park and a 64-unit, family-oriented redevelopment along Pine and Bartlett streets.

Maple Knoll, a 41-unit apartment building on Maple Street, is serving as the main redevelopment site, which would be razed to make way for at least 13 new homes, at a “density and scale compatible with adjacent single family homes.”

As the plan was unveiled this week, city officials said Lewiston-Auburn Community Housing, a subsidiary of the Lewiston-based nonprofit Community Concepts, has two Pine Street properties under contract: 60 Pine St. and 40 Pine St., formerly owned by the Sun Journal.

A map included in the 250-page transformation plan shows the proposed redevelopment sites, in orange, one along Pine Street and another block of housing on Pine and Bartlett streets. Courtesy image Courtesy image

A concept plan shows the mixed-use development stretching the entire block, the 66 units to be built over commercial space on the ground floor, much like the recently completed Hartley Block on Lisbon Street.

Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts, confirmed the news Thursday, saying the organization hopes to close next month on the purchase of the two buildings. He declined to disclose the purchase prices because the sales have not been finalized.

Yardley said the Choice Neighborhood plan will have “a huge impact on changing the course of downtown Lewiston into the future,” and he said it is evidence of the “life springing up in the downtown.”

Community Concepts partnered with the city and Healthy Neighborhoods to apply for the grant, and Lewiston became the first city in Maine to be awarded the grant when recipients were announced in early 2018.

Misty Parker, the economic development manager in Lewiston, said Thursday that while the redevelopment sites stand out, the transformation plan is comprehensive and reflects feedback from more than 400 residents who have taken part in the process.

“It’s not just a housing plan,” she said. “It’s really about the infrastructure within the neighborhood that’s going to promote more private investment, as well as supporting the residents who are there now with workforce opportunities and access to education.”

Parker said the transformation plan is still in draft form and all 250 pages are available for review on the city’s website: http://www.lewistonmaine.gov/933/Choice-Neighborhood-Grant.

Over the next month, Parker will accept comments on the plan, which should be finalized later this summer. Next year, the city and its partners will be eligible to apply for an implementation grant worth between $10 million and $30 million.

If successful, L-A Community Housing would issue a request for proposals for a development partner, Parker said, with 70% of the implementation funds going toward redeveloping the two sites. Over the next year, L-A Community Housing would work with the development partner to design the project and come up with cost estimates.

Yardley said that while the implementation grant is highly competitive, he is confident the application would be successful. He said to have a strong case when applying, ownership of the redevelopment sites is required. If they are not successful, he said, there “are other avenues,” or the nonprofit could resell the buildings.

A “transformation” plan for downtown Lewiston and the Tree Streets neighborhood includes a 66-unit, mixed-use development on a stretch of Pine Street. Courtesy image

Officials described the downtown redevelopment site as a way to build on the investment momentum from Lisbon Street and redevelopment of the mill district, bringing it up Pine Street.

During the Tuesday presentation, Parker told the council: “This development will play an important role in leveraging the redevelopment energy from Lisbon Street, carrying it into the Tree Streets. Additionally, it will provide an important safety component to Kennedy Park by providing eyes on the park, a common strategy for deterring illicit behavior.”

A few dozen downtown residents, some wearing blue “Growing Our Tree Streets” T-shirts, packed the council chamber Tuesday for the presentation. Beginning last year, a number of public meetings were held in the neighborhood to get feedback to create the framework of the transformation plan. The process included mapping workshops, public pop-up sessions, focus groups on housing and vision and goals workshops.

“The residents are really driving all of this,” Yardley said Thursday. “We’re listening to them, and what they say is needed.”

To be eligible to apply for the grant, the city and its partners had to identify  a “distressed” public housing project that had a property owner willing to sell or reinvest in the building to bring it up to quality standards.

The owners of Maple Knoll agreed to work with the city in the application. The apartments were built in the 1890s and rehabbed in the 1970s, using Section 8 or Housing Assisted Payment contracts, making Maple Knoll eligible as public housing for the grant.

When announcing the grant award last year in Lewiston, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said the lives of the roughly 60 residents at Maple Knoll would be “immeasurably improved” by the grant.

The two redevelopment sites on Pine Street and along Pine and Bartlett streets would be built first, with current residents of Maple Knoll given their choice of the redevelopment sites and housed first.

The second site, which Parker described as being in the “heart of the neighborhood,” looks to redevelop almost an entire block between Pine and Bartlett streets, resulting in 60 new units and four renovated units. She said Thursday some of the land proposed for redevelopment is owned by the city, with other lots also now under contract by L-A Community Housing.

According to Tuesday’s presentation, the community was polled on what types of housing were most desired. Between the two projects, 130 new housing units would be created, split evenly between market rate and affordable, marked for residents who are between 50% and 60% of the region’s median income.

Once redeveloped, the former Maple Knoll would be a series of townhouse-style units with a community garden and green space.

As part of the planning work, Parker said, a market analysis was done to understand what could be supported. For the commercial space on Pine Street, she said that included an eatery, such as a sandwich shop, cafe or even an ice cream shop.

Parker said the city has $1.1 million remaining from the initial planning grant. It will ask the community to suggest neighborhood improvements on which the remaining grant money should be spent as the city readies its implementation application.

A “transformation” plan for downtown Lewiston and the Tree Streets neighborhood includes a 66-unit, mixed-use development on a stretch of Pine Street. Courtesy image

Healthy Neighborhoods Planning Council member Ben Grenier, who works at Rainbow Bicycle, said Tuesday the plan can “capitalize on the energy of Libson Street, and bring it up Pine and into the Tree Streets. We have the opportunity to change the perception of downtown Lewiston. The energy is real.”

The focus area of the Choice Neighborhood is census tracts 201, 203 and 204, which include the neighborhoods surrounding Bates College and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. The Tree Streets neighborhood, a 30-block area within the zone, has experienced some of the highest rates of poverty in Maine for decades.

According to 2015 census figures, the median family incomes in downtown census tracts 201 and 203 were $12,417 and $16,047, respectively.

One of the main goals expressed when polling the community was addressing unsafe housing, particularly the issue of lead that has disproportionately impacted children living in the Tree Streets. According to the group’s presentation, there were 210 confirmed cases of children younger than 6 with elevated blood lead levels between 2013 and 2017, and 151 of those cases were in the Tree Streets.

Of those who took part in the planning process, 35% said making Lewiston lead-free would be the “most transformational” improvement. That was followed by improving lighting in the neighborhood, at 27%.

Parker said despite the challenges, the neighborhood is growing and is youthful. One-third of residents living in the Tree Streets are younger than 18. The plan also stresses the importance of the younger generation.

There are plans to create safe places to play, more green spaces and safe routes to school. A concept image showed more trees, more pedestrian-centered streetlights and curb bumpouts and crosswalks.

“This kind of community involvement and this kind of community action is what it means when I start every meeting by saying, ‘We’re the second-largest city in Maine but the city with the biggest heart,'” Mayor Kristen Cloutier said Tuesday. “It’s amazing work, and it’s being done by the people who are most affected by it.”


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