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Riverfront Island needs critical mass of new housing

The Lewiston Riverfront Island Master Plan Committee and consultants Goody Clancy released a draft of the master plan last week, outlining an ambitious agenda to make Lewiston-Auburn Maine’s premier urban riverfront destination.

The Riverfront Island master plan would be accomplished through four goals:

1. Tap the power of the river—through access to the water’s edge, a more active riverfront and stronger connections to downtown neighborhoods.

2. Attract a vital mix of new uses—including new housing, cultural destinations, workplaces, a new Canal Park, and the parking needed to support these new destinations—through reuse of older buildings and construction of new ones.

3. Make the district more walkable—to unlock the potential of Riverfront Island’s many assets

4. Insist on quality in both public and private investment—to attract desired businesses and visitors, and so that the Riverfront grows as a place the L-A community can take pride in.

Last week Twin City TIMES published details of the first goal, to tap the power of the river. This week, TCT publishes excerpts about the second goal: attract a vital mix of new uses.

See the entire plan at


Attract a vital mix of new uses

Since 2000, dramatic progress has been made in bringing new uses and activities to Riverfront Island. Establishment of the Franco-American Heritage Center has created a new cultural anchor for the area; the successful reuse of portions of the Bates Mill Complex has brought new offices, restaurants and medical uses.

These new uses complement the existing mix of businesses and residences that are an essential ingredient of success. Today, Riverfront Island is home to four restaurants with another currently planned.

With the development of new lofts currently under construction at the Bates Mill Complex, the addition of a planned new hotel on Lincoln Street, renovation of the Grand Trunk Depot building as a restaurant and continued development of Museum L-A’s new home on the waterfront, the district will take a dramatic further step. New amenities such as creation of a Lewiston Riverwalk will further enhance the district’s appeal and attract more uses to the area.

Lively downtown neighborhoods need a critical mass of people living within them, and Riverfront Island is no exception. Over time, attracting a critical mass of new housing (a minimum of 400 new units) will be especially critical to the success of the area. Both the Bates Mill Complex and Continental Mill are excellent locations for loft housing, while the areas along Oxford Street and Simard-Payne Park have the potential to include new townhouse development overlooking the park.

Successful urban riverfront districts incorporate a vital mix of uses that are drawn to a riverfront location while also attracting new people and events. The mix of uses must support activity over the course of the day, weekdays and weekends—in all seasons. The right mix of uses combines workplaces, arts, cultural, educational and recreational uses, retail, restaurants and hotels and a strong residential mix.

Riverfront Island already includes several of these uses, but in combination they have not yet reached the critical mass needed to be fully successful.

Reuse of Riverfront Island’s Mill Buildings

Bates Mill Complex. This approximately 700,000-square-foot mill complex extends from Chestnut Street to Cross Canal and between Canal Street and Lincoln Street. It is the cornerstone of the district’s success to date with major tenants, including offices for TD Bank and Androscoggin Savings Bank, Bates Mill Dermatology, Baxter Brewing Company, AAA and two restaurants (DaVinci’s Eatery and Fish Bones American Grill).

As of 2009, the complex had attracted $30 million in private sector investment and employed 1,000 people. Renovation of this property has been done to the highest standards and is a model for other buildings within the district.

The building’s recently completed atrium space, accessed from the intersection of Canal Street and Pine Street, allows pedestrians to travel through the building between the Lisbon Street area and Riverfront Island. With 48 units of housing due to be completed in late 2012, the complex will continue its evolution as a major anchor of the district.

Future planned uses for the roughly 200,000 square feet of remaining mill space include retail amenities as well as continued growth of office and residential uses. Much of the remaining available space is located on the east side of the building facing Canal Street. As this portion of the building sees use once again, it will present a more lively face to downtown and Canal Street. Development of a Canal Walk with trees and lighting will be essential in linking the Lisbon Street area to the riverfront.

Bates Mill No. 5. Bates Mill No. 5 has been a focus of public discussion for years within Lewiston. Over the course of this master planning process, extensive public discussion has centered around the future use of the Bates Mill No. 5 site. Several possible scenarios were considered: reuse of the structure for a major downtown anchor; partial or complete demolition and replacement with a new signature park; or demolition and replacement with a new structure to house retail uses and associated parking in line with likely near-term market potential.

While there was not unanimous public agreement on any of these options, most participants favored replacement of the structure with a distinctive new park space combined with a mix of development, potentially including retail and civic uses. Public sentiment over the future of the Bates Mill #5 structure reflects a skepticism over finding a viable reuse following 15 years of strong efforts by the City and other advocates, and continuing public cost associated with ownership.

While a final decision on the future of the building rests with Lewiston City Council, the master plan envisions demolition of most of the structure and replacement over time with a mix of open space and new development. A portion of the building along the Cross Canal is owned by NextEra Energy (formerly Florida Power & Light) and may need to remain intact.

Should the City Council decide to move forward with demolition in the near term, the site should be cleaned up and held until such time as full redevelopment can be advanced. In the interim, the site should be used as an open space and should not be used for surface parking.

Continental Mill. This five-story 560,000-square-foot mill building is particularly well suited to a residential reuse. Its mix of high ceilings, large windows and wood floors are ideal for loft housing.

With its waterfront setting and river views, reuse of the building could anchor the waterfront, bringing life and activity year-round. 250–500 residential units could be accommodated, depending on unit size and other variables.

Hill Mill. The present mix of small- and medium-sized light industrial and craft businesses located within this 400,000-square-foot mill complex are an excellent complement to other uses within the district and can continue to play an important role in the future of the area.

The Hill Mill continues downtown Lewiston’s tradition as a place where goods are produced; brings employees and customers to downtown; and provides space where emerging businesses and craft-related enterprises can operate within reach of each other. The Hill Mill is well positioned to be the hub of the region’s “maker movement.”

Adaptive Reuse of Other Key Historic Structures

Dominican Block. This four-plus-story 25,000-square-foot brick building at the corner of Lincoln Street and Chestnut Street was built in 1882 to house retail space, classrooms, and a large community room. The Dominican Block has recently been rehabilitated to a very high standard and is well suited for cultural/educational, retail, office and/or restaurant use.

The building is especially notable for its large upper floor assembly/performance space, which features 17-foot-high ceilings. The building’s elegant proportions and fine details make it especially attractive and noteworthy.

Grand Trunk Depot Building. An adaptive reuse renovation now underway at the former railway depot will create a unique new restaurant space on Lincoln Street. Establishing a new gateway to Simard-Payne Park on the undeveloped lot next to the Depot building will help link the River to Lincoln Street.

Island Point. North of Main Street and adjacent to the Great Falls, the area known as Island Point is one of the city’s most prominent and visible locations. It offers exceptional views of the Falls and River. Formerly the site of the Libby Mill Complex, destroyed by fire in 1999, Island Point is now home to Heritage Park, a hydro facility and Pedro O’Hara’s, a restaurant, bar and banquet facility.

There is significant potential for new high-profile development on Island Point—particularly on land overlooking the Falls, where the mill buildings once stood. Much of the property is publicly owned. Island Point is well suited to accommodate a substantial medical facility, a major “build to suit” corporate office building, housing and/or retail.

Island Point is not considered an appropriate location for large-format “big box” retail stores. Because the topography of Island Point rises dramatically from Heritage Park, it offers opportunities to reduce the cost and visibility of structured parking that would serve uses on the property.

Future development of the property should:

Accommodate extension of the Riverwalk, providing continuous public access to the water’s edge from the Longley (Main Street) Bridge, around the point, and on toward Canal Street to enable a strong pedestrian link to the upper canal;

Advance efforts to make this segment of Main Street more walkable, with buildings that front Main Street;

Help to reinforce Heritage Park as an accessible, inviting, and attractive destination for the community and region.

Infill Development

Lincoln Street Hotel. A new 90-plus-room hotel currently planned for Lincoln Street near its intersection with Main Street would further strengthen the mix of uses within the riverfront area, add life to the Riverwalk and support businesses by increasing the customer base for area restaurants and attractions. The hotel can also help generate activity around the edges of Simard-Payne Park, improving its attractiveness and visibility.

Use of the “red house” over the Cross Canal as a cafe or boat-rental facility as contemplated by the hotel has great merit and can also contribute to bringing this area to life.

Lincoln Street infill development. The portion of Lincoln Street between Main and Cedar Streets has undergone significant change over the last decade, with removal of several structures and significant investment in streetscape, site and building improvements. Over time, attracting new uses to vacant parcels will help to further activate the riverfront area, and better connect the River to the Bates Mill Complex.

Stand-alone retail, service, or office space will likely be attracted to Lincoln Street because of its traffic volume and visibility. The central portion of Lincoln, between the proposed hotel site and Chestnut Street, represents an optimal location for a small grocery store. The corner of Lincoln and Cedar is another potential location.

These land uses should be developed on the Lincoln Street edge with parking adjacent or behind the buildings. Lincoln Street uses must allow for additional buildings to abut Oxford Street, and parking for Lincoln Street buildings should not extend to the edge of Oxford Street.

Oxford Street infill opportunities. Over time, Oxford Street can develop with a particular focus on residential development at the Continental Mill and other locations. Improvements adjacent to Simard-Payne Park and its associated street edges will make the edges of the park more appealing as sites for infill development.

Additional infill housing would be an especially attractive use in this location, benefitting from the amenity of the park and providing a round-the-clock presence at the edge of the park, overcoming its current isolation from the area. Parking should not be provided on lots along the street edge in this location, particularly any parking associated with commercial or residential development along Lincoln Street.

Onstreet parking on Oxford Street, however, could help accommodate visitors to the park.

Institutional Anchors

Museum L-A. Museum L-A is working to construct a new home along the riverfront, beside Simard-Payne Park. Museum L-A would be a tremendous anchor for the riverfront area.

Franco-American Heritage Center. The Franco-American Heritage Center is a key anchor within the riverfront area. As a cultural destination and event venue, The Center draws 20,000 people annually. The Franco-American Heritage Center will continue to play an important role in the area’s vitality and should continue to receive strong support.

Get Creative with Parking

Parking is a key issue for Lewiston, as it is for all downtowns. The City of Lewiston has been proactive in developing parking structures within the downtown area to advance economic development goals. Today, five public parking structures serve the downtown area.

The two parking structures built by the City on Riverfront Island since 2001—the 610 space Chestnut Street Garage and the 337 space Lincoln Street Garage—have been integral to the success of recent redevelopment efforts (e.g., in the Bates Mill Complex), providing nearby parking for employees and visitors. Today, those structures are well used during the work week, with peak weekday utilization rates of 85% and higher. During weekends and evenings, significant capacity remains available.

As redevelopment of the Riverfront Island area continues—with potential for more retail, office, and housing—new destinations will, over time, bring demand for more parking. When the district’s public parking supply is operating at full capacity during peak periods, additional structured parking will likely be needed if the area is to continue to attract new businesses and housing.

Additional structured parking can be provided through expansion of Riverfront Island’s existing parking garages. In total, expansion of the Lincoln Street and Chestnut Street Garages could provide approximately 700 additional parking spaces, with roughly two-thirds of the total expansion occurring at the Chestnut Street Garage.

During high demand periods when Riverfront Island’s public parking garages are nearing capacity, there are well over 1,000 available parking spaces within the district in privately owned surface lots.  Many of these spaces will ultimately be needed to serve the buildings they are adjacent to (e.g., Continental Mill, Hill Mill). In the interim, however, property owners, the City, and the Riverfront Island area could benefit from an arrangement that allowed temporary public use of private lots as an interim alternative to more structured parking.

To ensure that parking is not overbuilt—at a cost of valuable land and dollars—or under-built, which could threaten the area’s ability to attract new businesses, residents and activity, Lewiston could refine this approach by:

Using models developed by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE), which can calculate parking needs for proposed uses based on the precise use and time of day;

Maximizing the extent to which parking is available to all, rather than dedicated to particular uses or destinations;

Improving signage to, within, around downtown public parking areas, which will help maximize use of the existing parking supply.

One Response to “Riverfront Island needs critical mass of new housing”

  • steve goulet:

    just keep section 8 housing off the drawing board and Lewiston will have a chance at being a great place to live and play!

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