LEWISTON — Officials approved changes to the financial agreement with the developers of a 245-unit apartment complex, after the project has so far failed to break ground.

The City Council on Tuesday signed off on an amended tax increment financing agreement with developer Saxon Partners, extending the timeline for construction of the “Residence at Great Falls” to the spring of 2025.

According to a memo to the council from Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, the pandemic has, “slowed the pace (Saxon) could complete design, created uncertainty for lenders, and significantly increased construction costs.”

“The current estimated costs of construction make the project increasingly challenging to secure financing,” he said. “Saxon remains committed to building a large scale project in Lewiston, but needs more time to secure the financing and construction commitments.”

The former Pineland Lumber Co., foreground, along the banks of the Androscoggin River in Lewiston, is the site of the proposed “Residence at Great Falls” housing development. The project so far has been plagued by delays. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal 2018 photo

The development on Avon Street, at the former Pineland Lumber site, was originally slated for completion this coming spring.

The city approved the initial financing agreement in December 2019, but Saxon did not close on the purchase of the property until March of this year.

The TIF agreement states that once built, Saxon would be reimbursed 63% of the new tax revenue generated by the project for 20 years. The city would use its share of tax revenue to pay its debt service associated with the project, over the course of 10 years, beginning when the project was complete.

When the project was announced, Saxon billed it as market-rate efficiency apartments aimed at housing medical staff from Lewiston’s two hospitals — staffing that’s also now in flux due to the pandemic.

The 245 units of market-rate housing is one of Lewiston’s largest housing proposals in recent memory and is part of a number of projects in the development pipeline that city officials hope can alleviate a regional housing crunch that is driving up prices. However, it’s unclear when construction will begin.

A representative from Saxon was present during the meeting Tuesday, but did not comment on the status of the project.

During the approval process, residents said infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood have long been overlooked and that they were concerned for parking and traffic issues.

As part of the project, Saxon agreed to provide an easement on its land adjacent to the river for an extension of the riverfront trail from Sunnyside Park. The city agreed to repave portions of Avon, West Bates and Summer streets and to install a total of roughly 1,950 linear feet of sidewalks along Avon and Holland streets.

The terms of the TIF remain unchanged, with the development projected to bring in $562,000 in taxes annually, based on an assessed value of $20 million. The 63% take from the developers would equal roughly $7 million over the 20-year TIF.

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