AUBURN — In 1972, the Androscoggin River was one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the country. So, according to city officials, it makes sense that housing and businesses along both sides didn’t prioritize river views or walkways. In fact, most new development at the time turned inward.

But, officials said Thursday, that has all changed. As the health of the river has rebounded, the two cities are again emphasizing the river as an economic driver.

During a presentation to the LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the economic development directors from both cities listed several things in the works on both sides of the river, including new housing, parks and recreational programs.

Racers load and unload their shells at the temporary dock at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston during the L/A Riverfest regatta in July 2020. Lewiston Rowing has secured funding to install a permanent dock at the location, which was one of the goals of the Riverfront Island Master Plan. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Here are a few:


In Lewiston, the city is reworking its Riverfront Island Master Plan, which guides new projects in the area surrounding Simard-Payne Memorial Park. In the next few years, the city could see a range of changes including new housing, a new Museum L-A and a revamped park with better water access.


Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, said part of the updated plan will include a new look at the Oxford Street area, in an effort to make the area more “walkable and attractive” through the potential creation of a canal walk and new development.

This past summer, the city continued its emphasis on river recreation by holding a rowing regatta. The event led to a grant funding that will help  install a permanent dock in the area this spring.

As for new housing, the massive Continental Mill at the riverfront is in the first stages of redevelopment, with housing developer Szanton Co. embarking on a 72-unit mixed-income project in the center of the complex.

Jeffers said the mill complex is an “enormous project to redevelop,” but officials are hoping the first phase will signal to other developers that the area is ready for more.

Both cities are involved in relicensing negotiations for the hydropower license at the Lewiston Falls, which Jeffers said will no doubt hit on recreational opportunities. He said ideas like lighting the falls and timed release of water during the summer are part of the talks, but said hydro officials are typically reluctant about releases due to the financial concerns.

Just upriver over the falls, developer Saxon Partners is still attempting to develop the former Pineland Lumber Co. site into 245 apartments, but Jeffers said it’s been slow going due to the pandemic and its impact on financing and construction. The city recently extended a tax increment financing agreement with the developers.



In Auburn, Economic Development Director Jay Brenchick said there’s a similar mix of new housing, businesses and public areas on the horizon.

He said the city’s new Strategic Plan in 2019 prioritized recreation and natural resources, along with developing an identity for Auburn’s downtown.

“Clearly our taxpayers care about the river and recreation,” he said.

He pointed to the new Anniversary Park along the Little Androscoggin River, as well as plans for a revamped Festival Plaza, which will place much more emphasis on the river. The plaza calls for a terrace-style slope down to the river.

Not far away, Brenchick said development activity is close to being announced at 186 Main St., where there are plans for a ground floor restaurant with apartments above. The units will have river views, he said, and direct access to the riverwalk.


He said city staff has plans to do “enhanced maintenance” of the riverwalk this year, cutting back brush to make views better.

Upriver, Brenchick pointed to West Shore Landing, a new 36-unit apartment complex, which he said features balconies that were placed to ensure river views. He said officials are hoping that private investment will pop up in between areas that are already seeing new projects.

“Change is coming,” he said.

Shanna Cox, chamber president, said the attendance Thursday morning showed that “people are energized around the river, recognizing the role it plays in economic development in the cities.”

She said the associated projects are drawing new residents and bolstering the workforce.

Peter Rubins, chairman of Grow L+A’s river working group, also spoke Thursday, stating that there’s no reason Lewiston and Auburn can’t make the falls an attraction and a place to host events.

Rubins has also led an effort to reclassify the Androscoggin River from a Class C to Class B waterway, which would maintain stricter wastewater rules for municipalities and industry along the river.

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