AUGUSTA — City councilors voted unanimously Thursday to authorize the city manager to sell the last remaining building of the former Edwards Manufacturing plant complex for $1 to two local developers who plan to turn it into a restaurant.
The two-story brick building has long been vacant other than being used by the city to store equipment, and there are no water or sewer connections at its location on the edge of the Mill Park of the city. It sits at the northern end of the city’s downtown, a neighborhood that officials hope to see revitalized.
In 2018, the city solicited proposals to redevelop the building but received no interest.
So city officials expressed enthusiasm for the proposal when James Bass and Tobias Parkhurst, who both helped found Augusta’s downtown restaurants Cushnoc Brewing Co. and State Lunch, came forward the year last. The couple have offered to acquire the building from the city to make it a restaurant, a bar or both, although they have not decided what type of restaurant it could be.
“We don’t know exactly which direction we’re going, but we think there’s some great opportunity there,” Bass told city councilors on Thursday. “We believe the investment will be significant in bringing this building to where it should be. We know the city is interested in redeveloping this part of Augusta, and we are excited to be a part of it.
The couple’s proposal was initially to turn the building into Sand Hill Wine & Provisions, which would be a wine bar and tapas restaurant. But now they are considering other options, such as a breakfast and lunch venue. Bass said the feedback they’ve received from the public, including web commentators on the Kennebec Journal’s story about the proposal, such as making it a place where people could grab take-out picnics, has been helpful. will be considered when deciding what to create there.
Councilors voted unanimously Thursday to allow City Manager Susan Robertson to sign a buy-and-sell agreement with Bass and Parkhurst, to sell it to them for $1.
Councillors, who discussed the proposal and expressed their support again last week, did not comment on the proposal on Thursday, except for Mayor Mark O’Brien who told developers: “Good luck, we wish you success.”
Bass and Parkhurst asked the city to sell them the building and about an acre of land it sits on and immediately around for $1, and provide an eight-year tax increment funding district, or TIF, to help To free up funds developers say they must bring water and sewer lines to the building.
The developers said the small space would likely limit the restaurant to 49 seats, a business model they say makes the $750,000 to $1.5 million investment they plan to make a bit risky with the flow. relatively low cash flow they anticipate.
The project, according to Keith Luke, Augusta’s Director of Economic Development, would have an estimated value of nearly $500,000 and generate new assessed value of $10,300 per year.
Under the expected TIF proposal, the city would return half of that tax revenue for eight years to developers, with the total funds to be returned estimated at $41,000. Since it is now owned by the city, the property does not generate tax revenue. Luke said the proposed tax relief would be put to councilors for a vote at an upcoming business meeting.
Ownership would revert to the city if the project is not completed within a reasonable time or if commercial use is discontinued, according to Luke.
The vacant building is the only factory structure in the former Edwards Manufacturing Co. waterfront complex still standing, following a fire in 1989 that destroyed the rest of the complex. The two-story, 30-by-60-foot brick building was built between 1910 and 1920 to house transformers that used electricity from the dam to power the plant.
The structure was also previously considered as a potential home for a museum honoring the city’s workers, many of whom were French-Americans and lived nearby in the city’s Sand Hill neighborhood.
These plans, proposed by the non-profit group Friends for a Heritage Center in Mill Park, never materialized, largely due to a lack of money and an inability to find grants. The north end of downtown where the site is located, near Northern Avenue, is usually among city officials who want to see revitalized.
The city acquired the 17 acres of what is now Mill Park and the last mill building as part of an agreement between the city, the state, and the mill’s former owners that allowed for the removal of Edwards Dam.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the dam removed in 1998.
At its peak, the Edwards Manufacturing plant employed 1,300 people.
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