After recession-related delay, Sanford mill redevelopment project reaches finish line

Before the Sanford Mill's grand opening on Sept. 9, 2013, Northland Enterprises had already leased half of the 22,000 square feet of commercial space and 32 of its 36 apartments.
Courtesy of Northland Enterprises
Before the Sanford Mill's grand opening on Sept. 9, 2013, Northland Enterprises had already leased half of the 22,000 square feet of commercial space and 32 of its 36 apartments.
Posted Sept. 09, 2013, at 5:28 p.m.

SANFORD, Maine — It took nearly six years, but on Monday morning a developer duo who focus on historic redevelopment projects and city, state and federal officials held the grand opening of the Sanford Mill, part of a sprawling textile mill complex built in the late 19th century.

The 66,500-square-foot mill building — relatively small compared to some of its neighbors in the 14-building complex founded in 1867 by Thomas Goodall — has been completely restored and now contains 36 apartments and 22,000 square feet of commercial space. The building falls within the Sanford Mills Historic District, a 7.5-acre area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The $11.5 million project has already attracted renters’ attention. Half of the 22,000 square feet of commercial space and 32 out of the 36 apartments are already leased, according to Josh Benthien, one of the partners in Northland Enterprises, the Portland-based developer behind the project.

Benthien said the redeveloped mill is part of a plan that began in 2008 when city officials approached the developers about restoring the building, which was a brownfield site, to help spur redevelopment of the rest of the historic mill complex. The project got started, but the recession put it on hold.

“Our original development plan went out the window with the crash,” Benthien told the Bangor Daily News on Monday. “We were left reeling a bit.”

But Benthien and his partner, Rex Bell, never gave up on the project. The pair went through about four different scenarios during the past five years to revive the project.

“It was a project we just couldn’t walk away from,” he said.

The developers restarted the project about a year ago with assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the city of Sanford, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Bangor Savings Bank and Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprises Inc. Wright-Ryan was the lead construction company on the project.

“Even as someone who is very familiar with a tool belt, standing right here six years ago — in nine feet of debris with rain falling through from three stories above — this day was not easily imagined,” Bell said in comments made during Monday morning’s event.

Throughout the course of the $11.5 million project, 120 companies participated in some fashion. Benthien said approximately $11 million of the total amount went to at least 80 Maine companies.

“It’s a pretty phenomenal story when you look at where the money went,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Angus King attended Monday’s event.

“This project is an outstanding testament to all that can be achieved when local, state and federal officials work collaboratively with private entities on behalf of our communities,” King said in a statement. “With beautiful new housing units and exceptional commercial office and retail space, this fully redeveloped mill complex will not only help to breathe new life into downtown Sanford and be an economic boon to the region, but it will also serve as a blueprint for successful economic innovation that can be repeated across the state.”

Benthien and Bell founded the company in 2001 with the intent to develop market-rate housing projects, but over the years it has evolved into a company that focuses on historic redevelopment projects. The duo’s past projects include the redevelopment of the historic Baxter Library in Portland, now the headquarters for The VIA Agency, and the first phase of the Kennebec Journal property in Augusta.

“We found ourselves doing deals that were a little more complex and that often stymied other developers,” Benthien said.

Benthien said with this project complete, Northland will turn its attention to the second phase of the former Kennebec Journal site, which will include a commercial space with some yet-to-be-named national tenants.

“Then we’ll take another deep breath and look for another complex historic redevelopment project in Maine,” he said.

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