LEWISTON — A 245-unit apartment complex slated for Avon Street will move forward, after the City Council approved the creation of a tax-increment financing district that developers said was vital to the project moving forward.

The project, dubbed the Residence at Great Falls by Massachusetts-based developer Saxon Partners, will now head back to the Planning Board for a site plan approval process that will include a traffic study.

The proposal would place 245 market-rate efficiency units in a single structure at the former site of Pineland Lumber, with the units geared toward medical staff of the nearby Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Hospital.

On Tuesday, city officials and representatives from the development team said that as they began lining up financing for the project, they ran into some roadblocks, with financial institutions considering Lewiston an “unproven market.”

The new TIF agreement, approved unanimously after some debate, will return 63% of annual tax revenue from the project to the developers over a 20-year period, equalling roughly $7 million over the life of the TIF. The city would receive $3.6 million in tax revenue during the 20 years. The development is projected to bring in $562,000 in taxes annually.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, told the council that after the TIF, the tax revenue going to the city is on par with other multi-family projects in the area. He said after about a year of executive sessions between the council and development team, it was a decision of whether to “provide support, or do we let it go?”

“It’s still a benefit to the bottom line,” he said.

Part of the agreement will also see city tax revenue be used for debt service toward infrastructure upgrades in the surrounding neighborhood, including paving and sidewalk improvements on Avon and Holland streets, as well as portions of West Bates and Summer streets.

A coming traffic study might also result in more needed offsite improvements, which would be paid for by the developer.

Councilor Jim Lysen, perhaps the most vocal on the issue Tuesday, said he has struggled with supporting the project since it was first proposed in 2018. Now, he said, the TIF issue further clouded the decision.

He said the high percentage TIF is “kind of unprecedented in our community,” which he said stands out more because Saxon is a for-profit company. On the other hand, he said, when you look at the site, the impact and the numbers, “if not Saxon, who will do this?”

“I think Lewiston has failed to take some risks,” he said. “If we don’t we’re going to lose some opportunities.”

During the public hearing, Spring Street resident Joshua Nagine argued that the TIF was too high a price to pay for a project that is “not being built for our community.”

Nagine said the model sought by Saxon, hoping to attract traveling nurses and other temporary healthcare employees, will bring the “negatives of gentrification and not many of the pluses.”

He urged the council to delay the vote until the traffic study is completed.

Joseph Berube, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, said a TIF can be a very important tool, but that there are good and bad ones.

“This is a bad one,” he said, adding, “Turn down the current proposal, it’s not a good deal for Lewiston taxpayers.”

When asked why 63% was the “magic number” for Saxon, a representative from the development team said it’s the number that will allow Saxon to hit the minimum thresholds to receive the needed equity in the Lewiston market.

“We believe in the city, but with institutional money, they look at it from a risk-reward perspective,” he said.

Councilor Michael Marcotte said he’s “usually not a fan of TIFs,” but said the comparison to the tax revenue from other multi-family buildings solidified his vote. He argued the nature of the project will also have a limited impact on city services, with likely no school-aged children.

“We’ve missed too many opportunities in Lewiston,” he said.

“The council is making a leap of faith by approving this project,” Lysen said. “I challenge the development team to make this project the best it can be. Hopefully it will attract more investment that wasn’t there before.”

HOPEFUL

Also on Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to approve the temporary installation of a “Hopeful” sign on Bates Mill No. 5, facing Main Street.

The sign by artist Charlie Hewitt is similar to one at Woodford’s Corner in Portland, and will be installed on Monday, Dec. 23. The project is a collaboration between Hewitt, a Lewiston native who also designed the Lewiston rattle sculpture, mill developer Tom Platz and fabricator Neokraft Signs.

Platz said the installation is designed to be temporary, in place until redevelopment work begins on the building. No public funds are being used for the installation.

OUTGOING COUNCIL

Tuesday’s meeting was the last for three outgoing city councilors — Jim Lysen, Joline Landry Beam and Michael Marcotte — as well as the last for Mayor Kristen Cloutier.

City Administrator Ed Barrett honored Cloutier, who he said is currently the longest-serving elected official in Lewiston.

Barrett said that while Cloutier never had ambitions to be mayor, “she has worked hard to meet the obligations of the office, performed double duty and performed those duties well.”

Cloutier became mayor in March after the sudden resignation of former Mayor Shane Bouchard. At the time, she was council president.

Barrett said Cloutier’s catchphrase, “Welcome to Lewiston, the second largest city in Maine but the city with the biggest heart,” which began every meeting, “epitomizes her approach to this community.”


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