AUGUSTA — The city found no takers in its effort to find a developer to create housing on the northern end of the Kennebec Lockes property, the city-owned former mill site that overlooks the Kennebec River.

Officials said it was both disappointing and surprising, especially since the city was prompted to put together a request for qualifications seeking developers for the site by two people who inquired about building housing there.

“I’m disappointed because at least two contractors had expressed interest in that,” Mayor David Rollins said. “It’s a head scratcher at this point.”

He expressed confidence that the 20-acre property, acquired by the city for nonpayment of taxes in 2009, will be developed at some point.

“It’s too good of a piece of property not to be,” Rollins said of the east side riverfront spot. “Location, location, location. The city is willing to work with any developer to offer land very reasonably. I think it is very viable.”

Keith Luke, deputy director of development services, whose job is focused on economic development, said the city did get a number of inquiries after the request was issued on April 3, but none of those inquiries resulted in responses to the formal request.

He speculated the cost of building a road into the site — pegged at around $1 million — and other infrastructure challenges could have kept smaller developers away.

“That’s discouraging, based on the enthusiastic expressions of interest that we believed were out there,” Luke said of the lack of responses. “What I think it boils down to is the cost of infrastructure — specifically, a road. Without a municipal commitment to build a road, it severely limits the level of interest that a private developer would have in participating in a project like that. That’s a big number. Whether it’s 12 or 24 housing units, $1 million added to the top-line expenses is significant. And if you’re going to drive to these homes, you’ll need a way to get there.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city spent about $3,000 advertising the request for qualifications.

Rollins, who said two contractors requesting anonymity had expressed interest in the property to him personally, said he had not yet had a chance to talk with those contractors about why they didn’t respond to the city’s request for developers for the site.

Luke said there is some potentially pending good news about the property, unrelated to the recent request for development proposals. He said the Augusta Housing Authority, a quasi-municipal organization that works to help provide housing to area residents, has expressed interest in putting together a proposal to develop housing more toward the southern end of the property.

Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, confirmed the organization is “exploring this site” for the potential development of housing. She declined to comment further because the proposal has not yet gone to city councilors for discussion.

A conceptual plan drawn up by a consultant hired by the city in 2012 envisioned a multi-pronged development at the site, with businesses including restaurants alongside the Kennebec River on the southern end of the property, offices and other commercial uses in the middle section, and a townhouse-style housing development on the northern end, near the Cushnoc Crossing bridge.

The site was long home to various mills, including Statler Tissue, Augusta Tissue and American Tissue.

As part of the effort to encourage redevelopment there, the city renamed the area Kennebec Lockes, partly in recognition of an old lock on the property.

In anticipation of finding private developers to redevelop the property, the city had most of the structures on the former mill property demolished and worked with state and federal environmental agencies to have pollution at the site cleaned up.

Luke said he is sure the property will be developed, because it is an attractive and desirable piece of real estate and is close to Route 3, but he is not sure when that development might happen. He said the city doesn’t need to rush to dispose of the site, at the risk of missing a better long-term use of the property.

“We’re not under great pressure. We’d like to see it developed in a way that it is an asset for the city, and we can take our time,” he said. “You don’t want to have a development, for today, that precludes the best possible use long-term.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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