The last structure from the sprawling Edwards Manufacturing Co. mill complex, seen here in August, is located on Canal Street in Augusta. Councilors voted Thursday to sell the structure for $1 to developers that plan to turn it into a restaurant. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — City councilors voted unanimously Thursday to authorize the city manager to sell for $1 the last remaining building of the former Edwards Manufacturing mill complex to two local developers who plan to turn it into a restaurant.

The two-story brick building has long been vacant, other than being used by the city to store equipment, and there are no water or sewer connections to its spot on the edge of the city’s Mill Park. It is on the north end of the city’s downtown, an area officials hope to see revitalized.

In 2018 the city sought proposals to redevelop the building but received no interest.

So city officials expressed enthusiasm for the proposal when James Bass and Tobias Parkhurst, who both helped found downtown Augusta restaurants Cushnoc Brewing Co. and State Lunch, came forward last year. The pair proposed to acquire the building from the city to turn it into a restaurant, bar or both, though they haven’t settled on what type of eatery it may end up being.

“We don’t know exactly what direction we’re going, but we think there are some great opportunities there,” Bass told city councilors Thursday. “We think the investment will be significant, to get that building to where it should be. We know the city is interested in redeveloping that part of Augusta, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”

The pair’s proposal initially was to turn the building into Sand Hill Wine & Provisions, which would be a wine bar and tapas restaurant. But now they’re considering other options, such as a breakfast and lunch spot. Bass said input they’ve gotten from the public, including from web commenters on the Kennebec Journal’s story on the proposal, such as making it a spot where people could get take-out picnic lunches, has been helpful and will be considered as they decide what to create there.

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Councilors voted unanimously Thursday to authorize City Manager Susan Robertson to sign a purchase and sale agreement with Bass and Parkhurst, to sell it to them for $1.

Councilors, who discussed the proposal and had again expressed support for it last week, did not comment on it Thursday, other than Mayor Mark O’Brien telling the developers, “Good luck, we wish you success.”

Bass and Parkhurst asked the city to sell them the building and about an acre of land on which it sits and immediately around it for $1, and provide an eight-year tax increment financing district, or TIF, to help free up funds the developers say they need to bring water and sewer lines to the building.

The developers said the small space would likely limit the restaurant to 49 seats, a business model they said makes the $750,000 to $1.5 million investment they plan to make a bit risky with the relatively small cash flow they expect.

The project, according to Keith Luke, Augusta’s economic development director, would have an estimated assessed value of almost $500,000 and generate new taxable value of $10,300 a year.

Under the expected TIF proposal, the city would return half of those tax proceeds for eight years to the developers, with the total funds to be returned estimated at $41,000. Since it is now owned by the city, the property does not generate tax revenue. Luke said the proposed tax break would go to city councilors for a vote at an upcoming business meeting.

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The property would revert to the city if the project is not completed in a reasonable amount of time or if the commercial use is discontinued, according to Luke.

The vacant building is the only mill structure at the former, riverside Edwards Manufacturing Co. complex that is still standing, following a 1989 fire that destroyed the rest of the complex. 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 structure has also been eyed previously 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, due largely to a lack of money and an inability to find grant funding. 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 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 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the dam to be removed in 1998.

At its peak, the Edwards Manufacturing mill employed 1,300.

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