NH developer plans to convert former Lewiston mill into apartments, offices

Courtesy of Chinburg Properties
Courtesy of Chinburg Properties
Chinburg Properties expects part of the renovated Continental Mill in Lewiston that it bought at auction on May 21 to be turned into apartments, like this one in its Saco mill.
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The Continental Mill was built in 1860, but has sat empty for two years.
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Chinburg Properties of Newmarket, New Hampshire, bought its fourth Maine mill, the Continental Mill in Lewiston, at auction on May 21 for $650,000, plus a 10 percent commission.

The New Hampshire developer plans to turn the former cotton mill into a mixed-use building for affordable apartments, light industrial and office purposes. Chinburg also owns mills in Saco, Biddeford and Westbrook.

The Continental Mill was built in 1860 and was most recently home to several manufacturers, including Falcon Performance Footwear (now Globe Footwear in Auburn) and Bourgeois Guitars, which relocated in Lewiston, before sitting empty for almost two years.

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Plans for the mill’s revitalization still are in their infancy, but when renovation work starts, hundreds of local subcontractors could be employed for the work, said Eric Chinburg, co-founder and CEO of Chinburg Properties. He plans to talk to city officials about his plans in the next few months.

“We’ll have 10 of our own employees plus scores of subcontractors,” he said.

Chinburg said he was surprised that his was the winning bid. He had set a top amount that he’d pay, and ended up slightly surpassing it. The auction reserve was met.

“That was slightly higher than I had in mind,” he said. “But it’s a beautiful property. I like the river and I like the community.” There was one other active bidder that he said he knows of, although a couple dozen people attended the auction at 2 Cedar St. in Lewiston.

Chinburg has a penchant for old mills, which tend to be downtown and have interesting features. The Continental Mill has old scales from its textile-making days.

“I love the old mills. They are unique, massive structures with high ceilings that are mostly downtown and on a river. They can’t be recreated,” he said.

The Continental Mill is the 15th mill he’s purchased in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire during the past 22 years. He’d not currently looking for mills elsewhere in Maine, he said.

Chinburg said he doesn’t know how much he will invest to repurpose the Continental Mill, but he doesn’t expect to renovate the entire building. Light industrial use requires only moderate improvements, but renovating a building for housing can cost tens of millions of dollars, he said.

“To justify the cost we need a majority of the mill to be residential, which is more stable long term,” he said. “Construction and regulatory costs have accelerated in the past few years.”

The reason he is building apartments rather than condominiums is that to get state and federal historic tax credits, the units need to have the same owners for five years.

Chinburg calls his strategy for apartments “living large in small places.” He builds smaller apartments with high ceilings and corner spaces, fitness spaces and other common rooms.

“Millennials can afford them,” he said. The Saco Mill No. 4 apartments run from below $1,000 per month to the high thousands per month, including heat, hot water and wifi. He said he doesn’t know what the prices will be in Lewiston.

The company has its own building and management companies.

Keenan Auction Co. of South Portland ran the live auction. Qualified bidders had to pay $25,000 to enter. The closing is expected in 30 days.

The Lewiston property, which is assessed for close to $1.4 million, had been on sale for $1.5 million by Malone Commercial Brokers before it headed to auction. Malone sold the property in cooperation with Keenan.

The mill building covers 560,000 square feet, and the property includes another 7 acres. It has 650 square feet of frontage on the Androscoggin River and 40,000 square feet of parking.

The mill is part of the Lewiston riverfront development plan, which would develop park areas around the river.

Chinburg Properties also owns the Saco Mill No. 4, the Lincoln Mill in Biddeford and its most recent purchase last December, the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook.

The Westbrook mill already has tenants, so the developer is looking to rent the empty spaces. Saco No. 4 already has been developed into a mixed-use building. Chinburg said he is finalizing construction drawings and plans for the Biddeford Mill and hopes to start improving it in the next month or two.

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