April 19, 2018
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Lewiston officials debate mill building’s future in wake of casino defeat

By Scott Taylor, Sun Journal

LEWISTON, Maine — With plans for a downtown casino shot down by voters across the state, the focus in City Hall will turn back to the fate of the saw-tooth-roofed Bates Mill No. 5.

“Now, we’ll have a discussion about the entire downtown riverfront, and that building is a big part of that,” City Administrator Ed Barrett said.

The massive building was a key part of Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment’s casino plan, which voters overwhelmingly turned down at the polls Tuesday. According to unofficial results, 63 percent of Maine voters said no to the Lewiston casino.

Plans called for redeveloping the mill building, creating a full casino with gaming tables and slot machines in the downtown. Backers said the casino would have been an economic engine, bringing new business to the downtown and renovating a unique, vacant building.

Demolishing the building is an option, but that won’t happen anytime soon. Barrett said Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment still has an option on the property that does not officially expire until Dec. 31. That’s when a final, $100,000 payment is due. If the group does not pay that money, the option is dissolved.

“We clearly have to wait until we see exactly what happens with Great Falls,” Barrett said.

Great Falls partner Peter Robinson said the option is dissolved, as far as he’s concerned. He does not expect his group to make another payment.

“My understanding is that losing, basically, terminates the option, and that’s it,” Robinson said. “The city doesn’t get the next payment, but on the other hand, the city is free of the option. We have no right to the building. They can do whatever they want with it.”

Barrett said that’s what city leaders must determine. They kicked off a Riverfront master plan in September, bringing in Boston planning firm Goody Clancy to help write that plan. The group has scheduled a public workshop on the master plan from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Franco-American Heritage Center.

“We asked the group to work toward different conclusions, and plan for that building being used as a casino and otherwise,” Barrett said. “We wanted them prepared, no matter what the status of that building would have been and be ready to discuss our options.”

Barrett said he expected a decision wouldn’t come until January, after a new City Council and mayor have been inaugurated. Councilors were selected at the polls Tuesday, and voters will elect a new mayor in a Dec. 13 runoff election.

Mayoral candidate Bob Macdonald said he had hoped the casino would win voter approval.

“Even if the casino went in there but went south, they still would have renovated that building and it would have been that much easier to sell,” Macdonald said. “We would have had a nice, new, marketable building.”

It’s up to the next council to make something happen there, Macdonald said.

“Something has to be done with it, either it gets fixed up or torn down,” he said. “It just can’t stay the way it is.”

Candidate Mark Paradis said he’d look to the riverfront master plan for guidance, if he’s elected.

“Keep in mind, we won’t be able to come up with something until June or July, at the earliest,” Paradis said. “It’s not like this needs to be done in the next month and a half. We need to let the group do their work and see what game plan they can come up with.”

To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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