WATERVILLE — The site of the former Seton Hospital on Chase Avenue will see a lot of activity beginning in the spring, as construction of a Woodfords Family Services school starts in April and a project to transform the hospital building into a mix of apartments and commercial space begins in the summer.
“We are planning to start April first and deliver the building in six months — October,” developer Kevin Mattson said Wednesday of the Woodfords building.
Construction work on the 150,000-square-foot former hospital building, which in 1997 became part of MaineGeneral Medical Center, is expected to start in the summer and continue for 12 to 14 months, he said.
Mattson, managing partner of Dirigo Capital Advisors based in Topsham, bought the Chase Avenue property more than two years ago for $500,000. He and his partners in Waterville Redevelopment Co., a subsidiary of Dirigo, plan to develop one- and two-bedroom apartments, or possibly all two-bedroom, in the building.
Mattson said he’s excited to be part of Waterville’s recent resurgence. His plans for the former hospital are being cited by area economic growth experts as a lure for businesses.
“What’s happening in Waterville is just accelerating,” Mattson said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Waterville is the most exciting place to develop right now. It’s remarkable.”
Initially, Mattson estimated there would be 70 to 80 apartments, but the number will depend on the mix of one- or two-bedroom to be determined by a market study. The state has approved the building as a national historic landmark, and it is undergoing federal review for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Woodfords is now on Heath Street in Oakland, and the new school building will triple the size of its current space. Initially, the new building was to have been 10,000 square feet and would have housed Child Development Services as well, but because of an issue involving timing, the agency will not be in the building. Woodfords serves preschool children with autism. Child Development Services, part of the state Department of Education, provides case management and direct instruction for families with children from birth to age 5.
The city’s Planning Board this week unanimously approved a request to reduce the size of the school building to 5,500 square feet for occupancy by Woodfords.
Cindy Brown, director of Child Development Services, was out of her office and unavailable for comment Wednesday, but Mattson said Child Development Services still is looking for a space and he is working to accommodate that need.
Paul Nau, executive director of Woodfords, was in a meeting Wednesday and did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
Mattson said the approximately 20,000-square-foot first floor of the former hospital could be used for Child Development Services.
Work has been ongoing inside the building to remove boilers, 100 air conditioners and other systems, Mattson said, and an architect has been working on a floor-by-floor plan. The goal, he said, is to have a plan before the Planning Board within four or five months.
The former hospital is a 1960s-era building that represents Miesian architecture, developed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who founded the International Style of architecture featuring steel-framed and glass buildings.
Garvan Donegan, economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, which worked with Mattson on the project, said there is a great need for housing and the Seton project will help to fill that need.
“This is going to provide more high-quality rental apartments for the area, which are needed,” he said. “We do have a limited supply of housing in the area.”
Notably, the Seton development involves repurposing a vacant building, which is a plus, Donegan said.
“This is bringing life to a once bustling area,” he said.
Work to help draw Collaborative Consulting, a Masschusetts technology firm, to Waterville included research to determine not only the labor pool within a 30-mile radius, but also the housing stock and projected housing stock, he said. Information about the Seton project was included in the projections of future housing inventory.
Collaborative Consulting expects to bring 200 jobs to Waterville in three to five years at a site to be determined. The company expects to open in Waterville in February and, by the end of that month, expects to have 15 people working there, according to Collaborative’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer, John Williams.
The Growth Council, the city, Colby College, state government and Maine & Co. worked to bring Collaborative Consulting to the city.
Maine & Co., a Portland company that provides business expansion or relocation services, spent two years courting Collaborative before the others became involved, according to Kimberly Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, who also is executive director of the Growth Council.
‘VIBRANT BUSINESS PARK’
Development of the Chase Avenue property will not stop at the Seton building and construction of Woodfords. Mattson, who also owns the former MaineGeneral hospital on East Chestnut Street in Augusta, plans to build other structures on the Waterville site, including a possible medical building.
“No question — this will be the very beginning and we hope to build other structures,” he said of Woodfords and the Seton building. “The idea is to build a vibrant business park.”
Mattson said it is an exciting time to be in Waterville, as efforts by Colby College, the city and private developers make plans to revitalize the downtown with retail, commercial and residential space. Colby has bought five buildings downtown and hopes to build a dormitory on Main Street to house students and faculty and staff members. A boutique hotel, retail shops and arts and cultural entities could be part of the mix. Improving traffic flow, parking, the streetscape and the waterfront also are planned.
The goal is to draw new business to downtown and help strengthen those already there, have more people living and working downtown and boost economic development.
Mattson said he recalls the downtown Portland of 20 years ago, which some people described as a wasteland, but all that has changed. Now the area is a bustling, vibrant and popular spot, he said.
“Waterville will become this type of development,” he said. “It gathers moss. It gathers its own life. It is going to accelerate over three to five years.”
He credited Hathaway Creative Center developer Paul Boghossian for launching the revitalization effort when he rehabilitated the former C.F. Hathaway Co. on Water Street and built 67 high-end apartments on upper floors and space for retail on the first floor.
About a year ago, Boghossian said he planned to develop live-work spaces and a conference center in the former Central Maine Power Co. building next to the Hathaway Creative Center and to develop a hotel and living spaces in the former Marden’s industrial building, which is closer to the Ticonic Bridge.
Amy Calder — 861-9247