Dignitaries participate in a ceremony in October to officially kick off construction of Central Maine Health Care’s Cancer Care Center at High and Main streets in Lewiston. This week, city officials said the project is among $300 million in new economic development in 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — The value of projects either approved or in the development pipeline this year stands at more than $300 million, officials said at a City Council workshop this week.

Nearly two-thirds of the value, however, is tied to a $200 million converter station for Central Maine Power’s controversial New England Clean Energy Connect project, which has not yet received approval.

In 2019, economic development staff in the city reported $23 million worth of “major development projects.”

According to a memo, the 2020 list includes a $21 million cancer center at Central Maine Medical Center, a $13 million addition to Lewiston High School, a $35 million housing development on Avon Street, a $10 million senior housing project at the former Martel School, and several other projects.

City officials say 2020 has been a momentum-building year for Lewiston, even as a pandemic roiled the business community. Even if the converter station is excluded, this year has easily eclipsed 2019’s numbers.

At the end of the fiscal year this past summer, officials in Lewiston and Auburn were already feeling optimistic about the rest of the calendar year. At the time, Lewiston reported $18 million in new projects for fiscal year 2020.

For the 2020 calendar year, Lewiston is reporting 18 new major projects, with a total value of $308 million.

During the workshop Tuesday, Councilor Stephanie Gelinas said reading the staff report on economic development “was such a bright light at a time when we’ve been so burdened with other stuff.”

Now city staff is planning for next year.

According to City Planner Doug Greene, staff is looking to update Lewiston’s Riverfront Island Master Plan, which was created in 2013. He said an update would “provide new guidance” for projects centered on the canals, riverwalk, Simard-Payne Memorial Park and the surrounding area, which has also seen its share of economic development interest.

He said staff would like to identify a “target area” at the canals to receive upgrades such as  new lighting and landscaping that could serve as a “model for how the entire (canal) system could look.”

Staff will also continue its inward look at its zoning ordinances, which received considerable attention in 2020. The city adopted new design standards for downtown development, and updated several zoning ordinances in hopes of encouraging more in-fill development. It all comes at a time when Lewiston-Auburn’s housing market is booming, which follows a statewide trend.

In a presentation to officials Tuesday, Greene said the 18 projects also includes 52 acres of solar projects and 297 new residential units. He said four of the projects are under construction, while two are pending Planning Board approval in December.

One of those, the Central Maine Power converter station, has been in the works since 2017.

The 70-foot-tall station would convert direct current hydropower from Canada to alternating current power, sending it south. While the 145-mile transmission line has been controversial across Maine, Lewiston officials have thrown support behind it since its inception. It’s slated to provide about $8 million in tax revenue to the city annually.

Greene said Tuesday that the project will go in front of the Planning Board on Dec. 28. It was originally slated to be on the Dec. 14 agenda.

He said the city has “a ways to go to get that approved and constructed, but it’s a huge thing for the community.”

Greene said the city has been working with CMP and its contractors for a year and a half. He told the council that anything previously identified as potential issues from the city’s perspective has been addressed.

“It’s too early to make an official staff recommendation but we don’t see any problems,” he said.

Mayor Mark Cayer said the project “will be a game changer for our community in many ways, including hopefully some meaningful property tax reduction.”

David Hediger, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, said a lot of the planning initiatives have been in the works for years, but the city is just now getting some momentum with them.

Throughout the past year, Greene said, they have tried to spur in-fill development, including reduced parking requirements for multifamily development and neighborhood retail in the downtown area.

He said the decisions are already helping, “because now these properties are feasible to develop because they don’t need to provide as much parking.”

Changes have also reduced the lot size and frontage in the Downtown Residential zone, and allow for the expansion of nonconforming structures.

“We’re always looking for ways to better the zoning ordinance and get barriers out of the way,” he said. “We’re just trying to ride the wave of what’s been happening.”

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