LEWISTON, Maine — A mill that once employed 6,000 workers and supplied textiles to Union Army soldiers during the Civil War — but has sat empty for almost two decades — is on the brink of being repurposed with three new tenants that could bring about 200 jobs to Lewiston.
Thomas Platz, whose affiliate company owns most of the 1.2 million-square-foot Bates Mill Complex, said he is close to buying Bates Mill No. 5 from the city of Lewiston and has three tenants ready to sign leases. That would create jobs, attract new businesses to Lewiston and give the city a new tax base.
“I am talking with three individual companies that will use a total of 175,000 square feet. We’re meeting regularly, and I’m looking to sign them to be on board before the first of the year,” said Platz, who is a principal at Auburn-based design and architecture firm Platz Associates. “We’re starting to lay out spaces in the mill.”
With common areas added in, the three would use 190,000 square feet, more than half the 350,000-square-foot space in Bates Mill No. 5. Platz said each of the two floors in the building occupies the equivalent of 4 acres of space.
“When we start this project it will be one of the largest commercial projects in Maine in quite awhile,” he said. “It’s 3 ½ times the size of the new WEX headquarters.”
The four-story WEX headquarters in Portland occupies 100,000 square feet. Last fall the city of Portland approved construction of a 170,000-square-foot headquarters building for animal health company Covetrus.
The Bates Mill No. 5 space will lease for about $200 per square foot.
Platz said all three of the companies he is ready to sign are Maine-based and are either expanding or moving their current locations.
“They’re going to be excited to talk about it,” said Platz, who expects to hold a press conference with the forthcoming tenants early next year.
He would not disclose the names of the companies and said only that they are not manufacturers. The Auburn YWCA has expressed interest in relocating to the building, he said.
Platz also wants to restore the number of jobs in the Bates Mill Complex to the 6,000 it employed during its heyday. About 2,200 people work there now, but he expects about 3,000 before the end of 2020.
Redevelopment of the building will include replacing windows on its side and in the saw-toothed roof panels.
“We’ve looked at putting in solar panels,” Platz said, since the roof is optimal for that technology.
He expects the project to be completed within three years, including one year of design and 14 months of construction. Environmental remediation work is about to start on the mill.
Platz estimates there will be upward of 300 construction jobs to be filled during the project.
The project could go before the Lewiston planning board by the middle of next year, he said.
Unusual features of Bates Mill No. 5, such as its open concept and plentiful structural pillars, have proven a challenge for developers and a source of desired features for potential occupants.
“Mill No. 5 is the last significant mill in the complex,” said Misty Parker, economic development manager for Lewiston. “It is the most unique in its shape and size. It was the first concrete and steel mill in the state.”
Mill No. 5 was designed by industrial architect Albert Kahn, who pioneered the use of reinforced concrete in buildings to replace wood. The building’s distinctive roof stands out against the Lewiston skyline with its long series of saw-toothed windows that let in natural light and ventilation.