The following is an article from The Sun Journal posted on June 9, 2023, by Christopher Wheelock
LEWISTON — A ceremonial smashing of a section of a brick wall Friday at Picker House Lofts in the center of the Continental Mill served as the official kickoff to one of the most significant affordable housing projects along the Androscoggin River in decades.
The project will be an anchor for the redevelopment of the riverfront with the eventual construction of more than 400 units of rental housing, commercial and retail space.
Picker House Lofts at 2 Cedar St. is the result of three years of planning and collaboration among the city, developer Szanton Company, MaineHousing, TD Bank, Evernorth, Chinburg Properties, Herbert Construction, Platz Associates and Coastal Enterprises Inc.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Mayor Carl Sheline said, “Development of this property is crucial to the success of our Riverfront Island Master Plan, and it means so much to me and to our city to have the Picker House repurposed into affordable housing.”
The project is expected to take 20 months to build 72 apartments — 46 workforce and 26 market rate — with one, two or three bedrooms. The workforce housing will be set aside for households with incomes at or below 60% of the area median income of $48,000, or $28,800, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We are at a period of time of incredible momentum,” MaineHousing Director Dan Brennan said, pointing to up to $80 million for investment in housing in part of Gov. Janet Mills’ budget.
Rents for the workforce units will range from $700 to $1,100, while the market rate rents are expected to range from $1,050 to $1,450. Heat and hot water, off-street parking, and Wi-Fi will be included.
Other amenities include a fitness center, rooftop deck overlooking the Androscoggin River, a community room, laundry room, secure bike storage, an on-site property manager and an on-site resident service coordinator.
Picker House is 79,000 square feet in the former Continental Mill complex that covers more than 500,000 square feet. It is one of the biggest buildings in Maine. The name comes from the former function of the building, where impurities were picked out of cotton before it was run through textile-making machines elsewhere in the complex.
Chinburg Properties, which owns the Continental Mill, plans at least 375 to 400 additional apartments in the rest of the mill complex and adjacent buildings. Chinburg Vice President Geoff Spitzer said it’s a multiyear, phased development project that they hope to begin in early 2024.
The massive courtyard at the center of the mill offers a perspective on the potential of the site as a communal space, which Chinburg said will be available to all residents in the complex. There is also 560 feet of river frontage on the seven-acre parcel.
“We are thrilled to be giving a new birth of life to this historic complex that’s played such a huge role in the history of Lewiston’s economy and people,” Szanton Co. President Nathan Szanton said. “It’s been sitting largely empty for decades, waiting for people to imagine something different for it.”
The company also built the 48-unit Lofts at Bates Mill, which opened in 2012, and the 63-unit Hartley Block which opened in 2019.
Picker House Lofts is expected to open in early 2025.
The brick and granite Continental Mill closed in 1961. At one point, it used to make the finest bedspreads in the world. The mill and surrounding buildings were built at the high point of the Victorian industrial architecture. At its peak production, the mill employed more than 1,200 workers, 900 of them women, who operated more than 70,000 cotton spindles on more than seven acres of floor space.