The last remaining structure from the sprawling Edwards Manufacturing mill complex is located on Canal Street in Augusta. Two local developers hope to work out a deal with the city to convert the building into a wine bar and tapas restaurant.  Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Partners in the development of two downtown restaurants propose to turn the last remaining building of the former Edwards Manufacturing mill complex into a wine bar and tapas restaurant.

The vacant building is the only mill building of the former sprawling riverside Edwards Mill complex still standing, following a massive 1989 fire that destroyed the rest of the historic structures. 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 mill.

The proposal to repurpose the city-owned building comes from Tobias Parkhurst and James Bass, who both helped co-found Cushnoc Brewing Co. and State Lunch, two restaurants in downtown Augusta.

Parkhurst is president of Oakes & Parkhurst Glass and also has developed multiple downtown buildings with housing and retail spaces. Bass is an attorney and partner in Soltan Bass LLC law firm.

According to a proposal submitted to the city, it would be “a 49-seat wine bar serving tapas and other globally inspired small plates.” The business would also serve cocktails and beer, and would be open for lunch and dinner, with proposed hours of operation seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The developers estimate the redevelopment will cost between $750,000 and $1.5 million. They acknowledged that kind of an investment, with only 49-seats for customers, will make it a challenge to have adequate cash flow and acquire the building.

“We believe we can make both work through some creative financing, personal investment, and a very long-term payback,” Bass and Parkhurst write in their proposal to the city. “As Augusta residents, we are excited about the continued growth of the city and believe that while this may be a bad short-term investment, it will be a landmark project and a major development for Sand Hill and the city. And frankly, we like the challenge.”

Their ask of the city is to sell them the building and about a half-acre of land it is located on for only $1.

They also seek an eight-year tax increment financing deal that would return 50% of the property taxes generated by the development back to the developers, an amount estimated at $5,000. After eight years the city would get the full, estimated $10,000, property tax payments on the property, which is currently owned by the city and thus tax-exempt.

The building is not connected to sewer or water, and is only used by the city for storage.

City Manager William Bridgeo said he is pleased with the interest in the property, saying, in a memo to city councilors, “I think that we are fortunate to have this proposal and I would encourage you to be receptive.”

He noted that in 2018 the city issued a request for proposals from developers to repurpose the building, but received no responses.

The structure has also been eyed in the past as a potential home to a museum honoring the city’s workers, many of whom were Franco-American and lived nearby in the Sand Hill area of the city. Those plans, proposed by the nonprofit group Friends for a Heritage Center at Mill Park, never materialized however, due largely to a lack of funds and inability to find grant funding for the idea. The northern end of the downtown area where the site is located, off Northern Avenue, has generally been a part of the city officials want to see revitalized.

The proposed new eatery and wine bar is named, in the proposal to the city, Sand Hill Wine & Provisions. If the proposal moves forward, the restaurant could open to the public in 2022.

The developers’ pitch to the city states: “The property has a unique role in preserving the city’s, and particularly its Franco, heritage and the development will respect the historic context of the building. The aim is to create a dining experience that draws on this past and incorporates historical images and materials as much as may be possible.”

The developers are scheduled to present the proposal to councilors at Thursday’s council meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Augusta City Center.

The city acquired the 17 acres of what is now Mill Park and the last mill building as part of a deal between the city, state and former owners of the mill that allowed for the removal of Edwards Dam. The dam previously powered the mill and up until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered it to be removed in 1998 still produced some electricity.

At its peak, the Edwards Mill workforce numbered 1,300 people.

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