The former St. Louis Church in Auburn could be among three sites to receive federal Brownfields grant funding announced Thursday. The building has been shuttered since 2013. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments will receive $300,000 for environmental site assessments to assist with potential redevelopment projects in Auburn, Lewiston and Rumford.

According to officials, three sites identified as potential recipients include a multifamily housing development in downtown Lewiston, the former St. Louis Church in Auburn, and the former Holy Savior School in Rumford.

The federal Brownfields grants awarded to four Maine communities were announced during a telephone news conference Thursday morning. The grants are intended to help assess and clean up abandoned industrial and commercial properties.

For Androscoggin County, the funds are considered communitywide assessment grants, which according to AVCOG Executive Director Amy Landry, required identifying “potential” sites.

Landry said while the three sites outlined in Thursday’s announcement were identified as having potential to be in the program, they have not been officially selected.

If selected, some of the funding would go to L-A Community Housing, a subsidiary of nonprofit Community Concepts, which alongside Avesta Housing is developing an affordable housing complex at Blake and Pine streets in Lewiston.

The property was the site of a fire in 2013 that destroyed multiple buildings, and has since been approved for a 35-unit apartment complex.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said Thursday that an initial assessment of the property found an underground storage tank and lead contamination that must be cleaned up before construction can begin.

According to a news release, the AVCOG assessment grant is designed “to conduct environmental site assessments, develop cleanup plans, and support reuse planning and community outreach activities for various sites to be selected throughout the grant.”

“Additional assessment funds will allow us to continue our work to plan for the reuse of sites for municipal, economic development and housing opportunities as well as recreation and green space,” Landry said in the release.

A concept image of the proposed 35-unit housing project on Blake and Pine streets in Lewiston by architect Platz Associates. City of Lewiston image

While the sites and separate funding amounts have not been officially selected, Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development in Lewiston, said Thursday that the project at Blake and Pine streets is expected to receive $175,000 in grant funds, and a $325,000 loan, both from AVCOG’s Brownfields revolving loan program.

In announcing the grants, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection said the target areas in Androscoggin County “are communities along the Androscoggin River on major transportation corridors that lead to the rural Western Maine region, including three qualified Opportunity Zones.”

The federal Opportunity Zones program, created in 2017, is designed to help economically-distressed communities where new investment, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.

In Auburn, the site identified is the former St. Louis Church on Third Street, which has been vacant since 2013, when the church ended regular services.

A group hoping to redevelop the church bought it from the Catholic diocese in 2014, but it reverted to city control in 2019 due to foreclosure, after the group said it was not able to secure a “viable” use for the building.

Since then, the city has attempted to pitch the building as a potential redevelopment opportunity. A 2012 evaluation put repair costs at an estimated $1 million, leading to the initial closure.

Auburn City Manager Peter Crichton said Thursday that the city has been working with a potential buyer for the property, but that the city has not involved with securing Brownfields funding for the St. Louis Church.

Holy Savior School, at 115 Maine Ave. in Rumford, closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

The biggest grant beneficiary Thursday was the former Great Northern Paper mill site in Millinocket, which was awarded two grants worth a total of $850,000 to conduct an environmental assessment of the 1,400-acre mill site and clean up its former administration building.

“This is kind of the heart and soul of our community,” Sean DeWitt, president of Our Katahdin, said  during the telephone press conference Thursday. The nonprofit economic development organization bought the mill in January 2017.

Another $250,000 grant will likely go toward cleanup at a piece of land in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood.


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