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Enough is Enough: Jobs, commerce and taxes: a big win for Lewiston

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

Simones Hot Dogs, a local landmark of a restaurant, is well known not only for its red hot dogs, but also as a meeting place for political activity. Customers range from the poor to lawyers to businessmen and lastly politicians. Here alliances are made and deals struck.

When I first became mayor, I took a walk up Lisbon Street, speaking with locally established business people and entrepreneurs who saw promise in the area and were investing heavily in the hope of bringing the area to life. Their biggest concern was the deteriorating McCrory’s building, which strained efforts to transform the area. There were no potential buyers on the horizon interested in purchasing the property. Further, it was getting to a point where sometime in the future, the building would have to be demolished, thus joining the site of the old Marco’s restaurant as another vacant lot on Lisbon Street.

But then a miracle happened at Simones. I was having breakfast with Jason Levesque, the owner of Argo Marketing. His business was rapidly expanding, and he needed more space as he was quickly outgrowing his location at 415 Lisbon Street. The next several breakfasts turned into lobbying. Levesque spoke with many local business people that believed in and were investing in the area. He saw potential growth and wanted to play a part in it, subsequently purchasing the property at 64 Lisbon Street. But in completing this journey, Levesque had encountered bumps in the road.

In Brunswick  a telemarketing center had closed. Levesque could have purchased that turnkey-ready center for $1.6 million, but he passed. He could have relocated his business to the mall on Canal Street. But he believed in Lewiston, investing $2.4 million to purchase and renovate the McCrory building, bringing a fresh clean look to the former eyesore. His investment created more than 200 local jobs. Soon he’ll be creating retail space that will bring more people to downtown. His employees have increased commerce in the area by patronizing the many restaurants and shops located there. This investment has also added to the Lewiston tax base.

Jobs, commerce and taxes  – a big win for Lewiston. But Levesque has not stopped there.  Recently at Simones, Levesque expressed a desire to purchase a building at the corner of Pine and Lisbon Streets, owned by Norm Rousseau. His intention is to create 10 market-rate apartments on the upper floors and retail at the street level. He asked if Rousseau might be willing to sell the building. I spoke with Mr. Rousseau and put him in contact with Levesque, and the deal is in the works. More jobs, commerce, upscale housing and taxes.

But now, thanks to the Lewiston Development Corporation and its creation, the Southern Gateway LLC, this whole deal could go south over a lease dispute. It is not my intent to interject myself into the current legal dispute. But as Mayor of Lewiston, my question is this: Why would the Lewiston Development Corporation (key word: “development”) hold Levesque to a lease when he was investing $2.4 million into the development of a blighted building a few blocks up the street?

Is this how we treat people willing to invest money to improve Lewiston?

I will probably take a lot of heat for this column, but heat is nothing new to me. In the interest of transparency, both Jason Levesque and his Attorney Jack Clifford are friends of mine. But this has nothing to do with friendship. It has to do with the economic health of Lewiston! The development of Mr. Rousseau’s building into market-rate apartments and retail space is one more piece of the resurrection of Lisbon Street.

I truly believe that Levesque’s project has the potential of attracting investors and developers to take another look at the vacant lot where the former Marco’s building once stood.

On the General Assistance front, it appears, after a meeting with Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau that Maine is on the verge of meaningful welfare

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