AUGUSTA — A proposal to build a wine bar and tapas restaurant in a former mill complex building is moving forward after receiving a round of cheers from Augusta city councilors.

The city-owned structure is the last remaining building of the former Edwards Manufacturing mill complex.

While councilors have yet to vote on the proposal, which would involve the city either selling the developers the building for $1 or leasing it long-term, nearly all of them recently expressed enthusiasm for it. Some said it could be a key piece of the long-hoped-for revitalization of the northern end of downtown, and even help spur positive growth all the way up Sand Hill.

“There has been some blowback, about passing this on for $1, but whether we sell it or it is a lease, these folks are prepared to put $750,000 or well over $1 million developing this property, so I don’t think this is a handout by any means,” said Augusta Mayor David Rollins. “It is a property that is going to do a lot for the community, as far as continuing the momentum. It shows there is a destination there. I think this is going to be a really key thing, that we’ll look back, in five to 10 years, and say that was the catalyst.”

The proposal is from developers Tobias Parkhurst, president of Oakes & Parkhurst Glass who has also developed multiple downtown buildings with housing and retail spaces, and attorney James Bass, a partner in Soltan Bass LLC law firm, both of whom helped co-found Cushnoc Brewing Co. and State Lunch, two restaurants in downtown Augusta.

The pair told councilors last week the finances of developing a 49-seat restaurant in a historic building, which currently has neither sewer nor water lines connected to it, will be a challenge. But they also believe it could bring benefits to the area beyond an immediate short-term payback. The proposed new eatery and wine bar is named Sand Hill Wine & Provisions, in recognition of its location at the base of Sand Hill, where many of the hundreds of mill workers lived.

“We’re excited about using this to potentially extend some of the success from the downtown, to help drive some investment in Sand Hill and the neighborhood,” Bass said. “The park, I think is a little underutilized. I think we can get more value out of that. It’s such a great space right there on the river.”

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

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

The developers estimate the redevelopment will cost between $750,000 and $1.5 million.

City Manager William Bridgeo noted that in the fall of 2018 the city sought proposals from developers to repurpose the building, which the city only uses for storage, but found no takers.

He said it may make more sense to lease the building to the developers, for $1 a year, in a long-term lease, instead of selling it to them. And he said he was personally excited about the proposal and the track record of the developers.

With councilors expressing informal support for it, Bridgeo said he and other city staff would prepare a proposal to sell or lease the building to the pair. That would have to be approved by councilors to continue moving forward.

The vacant structure is the only mill building of the former sprawling riverside Edwards Manufacturing mill complex, also known as the Bates Mill, still standing, In 1989, a massive fire 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. At its peak, the Edwards mill workforce numbered 1,300 people.

The developers said they would aim to draw on the building’s and mill’s past and incorporate historical images into its decor.

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