Among the proposals for using relief funding in Auburn is a market-rate housing development on the city-owned lot on Academy Street.

AUBURN — Following initial discussions on both sides of the Androscoggin River, officials are moving ahead with plans to start using millions in relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

In Auburn this week, those plans included projects like new, market-rate housing on a city-owned lot on Academy Street, a new bike park at Moulton Park, and a matching grant partnership with Efficiency Maine.

Officials said Auburn has already received its first allotment of funding — half of the city’s total take of $13.5 million. The money doesn’t have to be spent until 2024, but officials said the funding is a once-in-a-generation event that should be invested in projects that can benefit the community for the long-term.

They have not been finalized, however.

Mayor Jason Levesque said the proposals, which received support from the council Tuesday, likely meet the federal requirements of the relief funds due to their impact on recreation, housing and other needs in low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods in Auburn.

Two of the projects, the proposed housing and bike park, are both located between High and Main streets, and could provide connections to the Auburn riverwalk trail and Bonney Park.

Levesque said the proposals, which also include a possible expansion of Auburn’s PAL Center, and Phase 1 of a redevelopment of Festival Plaza, are meant to fit the goal of “places, people and purpose,” creating more connectivity and walkability in the city.

The first specific proposals, if eventually funded, would still not equal Auburn’s entire allotment. Levesque said the possible bike park, a $300,000 “competition-level track” could become a revenue source.

The proposed partnership with Efficiency Maine would put $250,000 in matching funds toward the organization’s existing grant program for high efficiency housing upgrades for HVAC, lighting, and other needs.

Levesque said the cost of developing housing on Academy Street would be roughly $2 million, with 16 units in eight buildings. The units would then be sold at market rate. He said during the housing crisis, its become apparent that Auburn is in need of starter homes for first-time homebuyers.

While Auburn has rolled out potential projects, officials are also still in discussions with regional partners in the hopes of pooling funds for larger projects. But, it’s unclear whether those plans will ultimately move forward.

During a Lewiston City Council meeting earlier this month, a majority of the council appeared to be hesitant about supporting a regional effort.

Councilor Luke Jensen said Lewiston has consistently “had to make up for funds we haven’t received from the state,” stating he was apprehensive about a regional project.

“I’m not sure we’d get a proper return on our investment,” he said.

Councilor Zack Pettengill said Lewiston “should take a moment to look at ourselves.”

Auburn officials hosted a regional summit on June 3, attended by officials from Lewiston, Androscoggin County government, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and local universities.

Auburn City Manager Phil Crowell said Tuesday that another summit will occur this summer. At the previous meeting, he said the potential areas of collaboration included housing, workforce development, childcare and transportation. He added collaborating doesn’t necessarily have to involve a specific project, but could be an agreement on working toward a more long-term goal.

In Lewiston, which will receive a total of $20.9 million in relief funding, officials supported a proposal to conduct two major sewer upgrades that would have otherwise been bonded.

Finance Director Heather Hunter, who is now also interim city administrator, said the city does not qualify to use the funding to offset lost revenue based on the requirements.

The federal guidelines stipulate that funds must go toward the health impacts and economic impacts from COVID-19, as well as water, sewer and broadband improvements.

When asked about the infrastructure projects, the council was supportive. Councilor Alicia Rea said, “it would be incredible to have that debt service off our books.”

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