A $50 million plan to transform a historic Biddeford mill building into a hotel and apartment complex is being touted by city officials as evidence that the removal of a trash incinerator is spurring redevelopment in a downtown that has struggled since the once-bustling textile mills closed decades ago.

The proposed Lincoln Hotel and Lofts project would transform the Lincoln Mill into a mix of apartments, a hotel and two restaurants. The mill building sits near the site of the former Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator, which had an odorous presence downtown that stymied development before its removal last year, said city officials who announced the new project Thursday. The city purchased the Maine Energy property for $6.65 million two years ago.

“When we had conversations about purchasing Maine Energy, we looked at what the domino effect would be. We recognized that once that was taken out, there would be redevelopment in the mill district,” said Mayor Alan Casavant. “The investment in the Lincoln Mill is a direct result of the elimination of Maine Energy.”

Daniel Stevenson, the city’s economic development director, said the Lincoln Hotel and Lofts project will pave the way for future development in the area.

“This is a signature project for Biddeford because it makes the city destination-oriented,” Stevenson said. “If there was a municipal trash incinerator downtown, this would not happen. It really opens the door up for this kind of significant investment in Biddeford’s downtown.”

For the past decade, much of the redevelopment activity in the mill district has been on the Pepperell Mill Campus, which now has 100 apartments and more than 80 businesses. The sprawling campus continues to grow as owner Doug Sanford develops the Pepperell Center in what was once Building 13 of the complex, and is the largest mixed-use development project in York County.

City leaders credit the Pepperell Mill redevelopment with drawing attention to the value of the city’s mill district, which once employed thousands of workers and produced textiles that were shipped around the world.

The Lincoln Mill project, proposed by Odyssey Properties LLC, would renovate the brick textile mill, which was built in 1850 and went into production three years later.

Raymond Gaudette, a local historian who worked in the Lincoln Mill in the 1960s, said the building was once part of the Pepperell Manufacturing Co. and produced textiles that were shipped as far away as Asia. Manufacturing in that building ended in 1970 when operations where shifted to Southern states.

The building’s iconic clock tower was removed in 2007 and, after years of sitting next to the mill, was recently saved from demolition by a group that raised more than $25,000 to move it to a new spot nearby.

Since 1970, the building has had several owners who proposed various uses, including a Marden’s store and low-income housing. Those projects were not undertaken, but the mill building in recent years has been home to a handful of small businesses.

The Lincoln Hotel and Lofts would include 101 market-rate apartments, an 80-room hotel and two restaurants, city officials said. Stevenson said preliminary plans call for a 150-seat restaurant that would serve three meals daily and a higher-end 65-seat restaurant that would serve lunch and dinner.

The Lincoln Mill project would create about 100 permanent jobs, although Stevenson said he did not have a breakdown of the number of part-time and full-time jobs. The project is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete, he said.

No detailed plans have yet been submitted to the city. Odyssey Properties principal Greg Bennett referred all questions about the project to his company’s attorney, Ralph Austin. Austin did not respond to a request for comment.

In November 2013, the Biddeford Planning Board granted Odyssey Properties permission to build a different version of the project, one without the hotel and restaurants. The 2013 plan included 101 market-rate apartments and a mixed-use space for research, testing laboratories and commercial space. The company was given a one-year extension last month.

The building, purchased by Odyssey Properties in 2007 for nearly $1.2 million, is appraised at about $1.3 million, according to city property records. The brick building has about 224,000 square feet – or roughly 5 acres – and is located at the corner of Main and Lincoln streets, just across from City Hall.

Stevenson said Odyssey Properties representatives are expected to appear before the Planning Board on Dec. 3 to amend the original request and to replace the research and lab space with the restaurants and hotel.

Stevenson said one aspect of the project that would likely receive close scrutiny is parking, which is a frequent concern downtown as new businesses and apartments increase demand for parking spots. There is a surface parking lot behind the mill building.

The Lincoln Hotel could become the first hotel in the city’s downtown in recent history. The company that owns the nearby Pepperell Mill Campus proposed a 40-room hotel in 2013 and is still considering how to develop the project.

Casavant said bringing at least one hotel to downtown Biddeford would help propel redevelopment and once again make the city a destination.

“It’s an exciting time. Biddeford has been off the radar for so long,” he said. “People are fascinated by the mills and the architecture of downtown. They see so much potential.”

Delilah Poupore, executive director of the Heart of Biddeford, said the redevelopment plan is “huge news” for the city because it would create new jobs and is a sign that developers see the potential in Biddeford.

“It’s a major sign that the revitalization people have been working on for years is finally coming together,” she said.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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