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Continental Mill housing project moving ahead in Lewiston: Sun Journal

Arial picture over looking the Continental Mill in Lewiston

The following in an article from the Sun Journal, posted on December 2, 2022 by Andrew Rice

LEWISTON — The developers behind the 72-unit housing project at the Continental Mill said construction could begin as soon as February, marking the beginning of a significant redevelopment of the city’s riverfront area.

City officials this week said the news is especially welcome given high construction costs and interest rates that have complicated other local projects this year.

Amy Cullen, vice president of The Szanton Co., the developer, said the company is going out to bid on the project next week, “with a goal to close and begin construction in February.” She said they expect a 20-month construction schedule.

The Picker House Lofts, named in honor of the central building in the massive mill complex, will feature a roof deck, fitness room, community room, indoor bike storage, an on-site property manager, and an on-site resident service coordinator

When complete, the mill that’s been vacant for decades will feature 46 units of workforce housing and 26 market rate units — a mix of one, two and three bedrooms. The workforce housing will be set aside for households with incomes at or below 60% of the area median income.

Nearly a year ago, the project received key funding from affordable housing tax credits from MaineHousing. Cullen said at the time that the funding would drive roughly $8 million in equity for the $22.4 million project. The developers will also utilize state and federal historic investment tax credits to drive another $9.7 million, she said.

In June of 2021, the City Council approved the creation of a tax increment financing district for the project, a 23-year agreement that will return part of the tax revenue collected to the developer.

City officials consider the project an important shift toward the eventual redevelopment of the entire complex, as well as the city’s larger riverfront island area. Given the current economic climate, officials are pleased the project is on track.

At the former Pineland Lumber Co. site on Avon Street, a larger apartment complex has not yet broken ground after experiencing significant delays. The first phase of the city’s high-profile Choice Neighborhoods redevelopment was recently reworked in response to a funding gap. City staff said costs had risen 39% since 2020 estimates.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, said the Picker House project has also experienced similar cost increases but said developers “remain confident they can close the gap.”

“I am glad that despite this challenging environment — with interest rates and construction costs rising — this project is moving forward,” Mayor Carl Sheline said Friday. “We need housing of every type in Lewiston, including workforce housing.”

The Szanton Co. has previously developed the Lofts at Bates Mill and the Hartley Block apartments on Lisbon Street, as well as several other projects across Maine.

The rest of the Continental Mill complex, owned by Chinburg Properties, is also the subject of redevelopment efforts.

Asked if city staff had been in discussions with Chinburg regarding the rest of the mill complex, Jeffers said the property owners are “actively in the planning stages,” but said they are not yet close to submitting plans to staff.