The Biddeford City Council voted unanimously this week to approve a Joint Development Agreement between the city and LHL Holdings, LLC regarding the redevelopment of the Lincoln Mill in downtown Biddeford.
Last week, Tim Harrington of LHL Holdings LLC and Eric Chinburg of Chinburg Properties announced their partnership on the mill at 17 Lincoln St. In whole, the cost of the mill redevelopment project is expected to surpass $40 million.
Under the JDA, developers will be obligated to begin construction of phase one of the project, which includes 181 apartment units, meeting spaces, a restaurant, a 10,000-square-foot fitness club and rooftop amenities, by the end of the year.
Additionally, developers must pull all building permits from the mill, an amount that is expected to cost around $400,000.
Included in the agreement is language obligating developers to finish the project by the end of 2019. The city will in turn grant a five-year credit enhancement, a form of TIF, or tax financing increment of $150,000 a year. Under a credit enhancement agreement, “all or a percentage of tax revenues generated by new investment can be used to pay certain authorized project costs with payment made directly to the company,” according to a 2010 Maine Department of Economic and Community Development document.
The city is expected to formally approve the formal credit enhancement documents by Dec. 31.
City government officials spoke glowingly about the project, citing the reputation of Eric Chinburg as being a leading figure in New England mill redevelopments. Others noted how the project would boost the city’s economy.
“Studies have indicated in Maine that if you have market rate residential units, they contribute about $22,000 annually into the local economy per residential unit,” said Town Manager Jim Bennett. “With the units proposed in phase one that’s about $4 million that would be generated into the community as a result of the project.”
The council also stated that the project would create construction jobs for two years.
But at the Tuesday night meeting, residents were more skeptical and perturbed however by the council’s willingness to move forward with the project, with many expressing concern over what they believe is a false need for more market rate housing in Biddeford, the credit enhancement deal, and whether the project would help the city or the developers in the end.
“Some of us are having a hard time living on a fixed income,” said former Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey. “When a developer comes in, and he wants to develop, he should be able to pay for what he wants. … It’s Mr. Harrington that I’m questioning.”
Twomey went on to cite development projects that have lost money for the city in the past, and questioned the city’s urgency in getting into the development business when the city has other needs.
“We need more fireman, policeman. At the end of the day you’re not making a lot of money, you’re helping a developer and I don’t think that’s what government is all about.”
Still, council members stood firm in their belief that the project will benefit the city, and added that the credit enhancement agreement works in the city’s favor.
“This particular deal is only for five years,” said Council President John McCurry. “Some of these TIF’s range anywhere between 12 and 30 years. This is a five-year one, so this is very short-lived. It has a mechanism that if they don’t finish it they don’t get back any funds unless the building is complete. So if they don’t finish it and don’t generate the revenue, we aren’t going to pay them.”
He added that it’s a win-win situation for the city because it allows the building to move forward instead of laying dormant.
“We can’t wait afford to have the mill remain empty and we can’t afford to wait another year or two for the next developer to come along,” said Councilman Stephen St. Cyr.
Mayor Alan Casavant had the final word before the council voted on the agreement.
“I think this is a superb project for the City of Biddeford and I think it’s another example of the new Biddeford that has been emerging over the last several years, where investors feel confident in putting their dollars into Biddeford because it’s a good place to do business and it’s a good community,” Casavant said. “It’s a historical building, it deserves preservation, and how many times in your lifetime do you see something $40 or $50 or $60 million coming along. You don’t.”