BIDDEFORD — When Andrew Taylor and his business partners went looking for a home for a new commissary kitchen for Eventide, they found themselves considering nondescript warehouses in industrial parks until they walked through the door of Building 10 on the Pepperell Mill Campus.

Even with the cavernous room full of construction materials, they could see the potential in the brick walls, tall windows and wood floors. The building had the type of character – and history – they wouldn’t find in an empty warehouse.

In March, the partners of Eventide will open a 6,000-square-foot commissary kitchen in Biddeford to prepare food for the popular Portland restaurant and the new location they’re opening in Boston. They also will find themselves in an increasingly eclectic neighborhood.

Eventide’s commissary kitchen will be housed in this space, where the restaurant’s signature lobster roll will be made.

Next to the commissary kitchen, glass artist Joseph Webster will open a studio where he will display and demonstrate his craft and offer glassblowing classes. The 25-year-old Portland native moved back to Maine from Boston to open a studio and was drawn to the Pepperell Mill Campus for its affordable space and growing community of artists and makers.

The unlikely pairing of a commercial kitchen and a glassblowing studio is the norm on the Pepperell Mill Campus, which has been transformed over the past six years from a sprawling complex of vacant textile mill buildings to the largest mixed-use development in York County. It is home to 120 small businesses and 160 residents.

Mill owner Doug Sanford and his company have invested $40 million to $50 million in the mills since 2004. Last year, the company invested $1.8 million in the project, building out 40,000 square feet of space that has been leased for mixed use. The 16-acre campus, with 1 million square feet of interior space, is 65 percent complete and plans are in the works for more housing, a 61-room hotel and the expansion of light industrial space.

Sanford says the redevelopment of the mills is two years ahead of schedule. He had predicted the 60,000-square-foot first floor of Building 13 – home to a restaurant, brewery, collaborative work space and ice cream shop, among other businesses – would be absorbed by 2018.

“That’s already done and we’re 30 percent done with the floor above it,” Sanford said. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the demand. The growth has been above our predictions.”

City leaders, who consider Sanford a pioneer for leading investment in the mill district, say the Pepperell Mill Campus is drawing attention to the city’s revitalization, bringing new businesses and residents to the community and expanding Biddeford’s tax base. Many of the residents and businesses are relocating to Biddeford from the crowded and expensive Portland market, they say.

“They’ve done a really outstanding job of recruiting new businesses to invest in Biddeford and help its economic growth,” said Daniel Stevenson, the city’s economic development director. “They’re making a significant investment and it’s very exciting.”

Craig Pendleton, executive director of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said people from outside Biddeford often seem shocked when they find out how much activity there is in the mills. The new economic activity on the Pepperell Mill Campus is drawing positive attention to both Biddeford and Saco and giving other developers and entrepreneurs the confidence to invest in the communities, he said.

“If you look back 10 years, who would have ever thought the buzz would be that Biddeford is an up-and-coming cool place to live and work?” he said. “It makes my job really exciting every day.”

Once a dying area

Sanford came to Biddeford in 1981 and bought buildings on Main Street at a time people told him he was crazy for investing in a dying downtown. In 2004, he bought the North Dam Mill and began transforming it into apartments and spaces for small businesses. The WestPoint Home textile mills were still operating next door and there was little interest in revitalizing the downtown.

After WestPoint closed, Sanford acquired the rest of the mill complex in 2010. Two years later, the city bought the site of the Maine Energy trash incinerator, which Sanford and other developers had long maintained stymied development in a city that was once dubbed “Trashtown U.S.A.” Since then, the city has approved more than $70 million in new projects in the mill district, not including the work Sanford and his company continue to do on the Pepperell campus.

Scott Joslin, general manager of Pepperell Mill Campus in Biddeford, stands in Building 10. He is excited about the prospect of the first hotel downtown. Staff photos/Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Scott Joslin, chief operating officer and general manager of the Pepperell Mill Campus, said the residential side of the redevelopment has been easy. Since the first apartments opened, management has had to keep a waiting list of interested tenants. He said they plan to expand the number of housing units on campus while also moving forward with the expansion of light industrial in buildings 10 and 13.

Last year, the city approved a master plan for the campus that includes a 61-room hotel with a restaurant and bar in the riverfront Building 19 and 200 more housing units, some of which will likely be designated for seniors. This year, Sanford and Joslin plan to build 51 new apartments and move forward with the expansion of light industrial in buildings 10 and 13. They are also actively looking for a hotel developer to partner with to build the first hotel in downtown Biddeford.

“We think it could be something significant,” Joslin said of the hotel. “All of the market data says there’s a ton of opportunity. There’s no competition. It would be a cool addition to the campus and to Main Street.”

Sanford said working in new buildings on campus – including Building 10, where the Eventide kitchen will operate – is as exciting as it was at the beginning. He speaks often and enthusiastically about the community that has developed in the mills and the potential for the remaining empty space.

“There is an allure to this community. We’re starting to see more interest in the city from people who never saw the potential in Biddeford,” Sanford said. “The reality is there is opportunity here. That’s why they’re coming. They see an opportunity to build their dreams.”

An eclectic mix

Webster, the glass blower, stood inside Building 10 last week, construction workers moving around him in his framed-out studio space. By April, the roughly 1,300-square-foot space will include two furnaces, a gallery and space where guests can watch him blow glass. His will be the only place in southern Maine offering glass-blowing classes, he said.

Joseph Webster will open a glass-blowing studio in the Pepperell Mill Campus in Biddeford. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Webster, who specializes in elaborate Venetian-style glass pieces, graduated from Deering High School in 2010 and went on to earn a master’s degree from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. He spent the last few years working in studios in Boston, but wanted to open his own studio in Maine.

He looked in Portland, but found Biddeford more affordable. He was also drawn to the growing arts community in the city and the opportunity to carve out his own space in a historic building.

Being on the mill campus in the heart of downtown will allow him to engage with the community, Webster said. He’s hopeful other artists will also find their way to the mill.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for any artist or maker,” he said.

Taylor said Big Tree Hospitality – which also includes Hugo’s and The Honey Paw in Portland – needed space for the Eventide commissary kitchen and its corporate offices. As the company grew, Taylor and partners Arlin Smith and Mike Wiley found themselves without desks in the office above their Portland restaurants. They also wanted to shift some food production, including baking and preparation of their signature brown butter lobster roll, into a larger space.

Taylor said he and his partners looked all over Greater Portland and the Biddeford-Saco area before visiting Building 10 at the Pepperell mills. Taylor said they had heard about the ongoing revitalization in the city and were familiar with the mills, but had never spent much time exploring the area. In the mills they found an affordable space that could be customized to accommodate the large stoves and steamers Eventide uses.

“We thought the Pepperell mill was the perfect spot for us, both from a geographical perspective and that they’re beautiful old buildings,” he said. “Our employees can go there and have a ton of pride in working there.”

Taylor said he is happy to join other friends who have moved their businesses to Biddeford, including the proprietors of Rabaleis in the North Dam Mill and the owners of the popular Palace Diner and Custom Deluxe restaurant just a block up Main Street.

“Biddeford as a whole has been an interesting and compelling town,” Taylor said. “We feel like Biddeford has a lot going on and we’re excited to be here.” Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford, a nonprofit that promotes the downtown, said it has been interesting to watch the redevelopment of the Pepperell Mill Campus and the businesses it’s drawing to the downtown.

“The mill really does act as an incubator,” she said. “You see different business collaborating and building each other up.”

As the mills continue to fill up with new businesses and more apartments, there are more people downtown to shop in Main Street stores and take advantage of the city’s growing restaurant scene, she said.

“We see it as a very positive step for the whole city,” she said.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.