City transfers buildings in ‘transformation’ plan to Lewiston Housing

in: LH News on: 04/24/2020

Map of Lewiston Maine downtown and proposed transformation
A map included in the 250-page transformation plan shows the proposed redevelopment sites, in orange, one along Pine Street and another block of housing on Pine and Bartlett streets. Submitted image

source: Sun Journal • by: Andrew Rice

Officials said the transfer of multiple downtown properties to Lewiston Housing will give the city a better chance of receiving a massive redevelopment grant.

LEWISTON — It’s been planned since last year, but now it’s official.

A collection of downtown properties owned by the city will be turned over to Lewiston Housing, a move that officials believe will give the city its best chance at obtaining a federal redevelopment grant of up to $30 million.

While those involved are expecting delays in the process due to COVID-19, they are moving forward with planning, and hoping for an application deadline sometime this fall.

Officials said Tuesday that having Lewiston Housing in control of the properties will allow the city to compete for an additional portion of funding “set aside only for housing authorities.” The organization has taken over the “lead role” in the redevelopment sites, a City Council memo said.

The four properties, along Pine, Bartlett and Bates streets, are part of a redevelopment site that is central to the plan, which was finalized last year after months of community involvement.

At the time, the city and L-A Community Housing, a subsidiary of Community Concepts, had been working together to acquire the necessary downtown parcels to put together the large redevelopment project. L-A Community Housing has since transferred a number of buildings to Lewiston Housing as well, including the former Sun Journal building at 40 Pine St.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to convey the properties to Lewiston Housing.

Councilor Luke Jensen, whose Ward 5 includes the Tree Streets neighborhood, said, “I’m very much looking forward to seeing those properties in my ward redeveloped, and think it will go a long way to improve the image of the city.”

Along Kennedy Park, the plan calls for a 66-unit, mixed-use development, while the redevelopment plan along Pine and Bartlett streets envisions a 64-unit, family-oriented project. Nearby on Maple Street, the centerpiece of the grant proposal is a complete overhaul of the Maple Knoll housing complex into a series of townhouse-style units.

Last year, the city spent $135,000 to demolish three condemned buildings on the Bartlett Street properties to make way for the redevelopment.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, told the council Tuesday that handing over the properties to Lewiston Housing gives the city “the best chance to be successful with the grant application and implementation.”

According to a memo from Jeffers, Lewiston Housing has created a subsidiary, the Lewiston Auburn Housing Development Corp., specifically for “acquiring and managing redevelopment sites” within the Choice Neighborhood plan.

Part of the housing authority’s work has also been to locate a developer willing to design and build the projects.

While officials have said they are expecting delays with the grant application process, Lewiston Housing Executive Director Chris Kilmurry said the organization landed a development partner prior to the pandemic.

Kilmurry said Avesta Housing was chosen to partner with Lewiston Housing and the city on the redevelopments, a move that he said brings in “a well-known” developer to the project.

Avesta Housing is already in the process of developing a 35-unit housing complex on Blake and Pine streets, and is working with Lewiston Housing to redevelop the former Martel School into senior housing.

Despite the uncertainty with the grant for now, Kilmurry said those involved are only focusing on “Plan A,” which is being awarded the grant.

“That’s the sole focus at this point,” he said Thursday.

He said if the city is ultimately not successful in the grant, the downtown parcels will remain “important pieces of real estate,” and Lewiston Housing will continue to seek federal and state resources to build housing there.

“The goal is to develop these properties into high-quality affordable housing for the city,” he said.

The four properties transferred Tuesday are 91 Pine St., 111 Bartlett St., 114 Bartlett St., and 320 Bates St.

The agreement also includes language that would allow the real estate to revert to city ownership “if sufficient progress is not made on redeveloping the parcels as outlined in the Choice Neighborhood Plan” after a seven-year period.

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