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June 28, 2017

Hartley Block construction to reverse blighted downtown Lewiston parcel

Courtesy / The Szanton Company
Courtesy / The Szanton Company
A rendering shows the planned Hartley Block, which will fill a long-vacant stretch of Lisbon Street in downtown Lewiston. Construction is set to begin Oct. 1.

About a decade ago, four adjacent historic buildings at 145-177 Lisbon St. in downtown Lewiston were destroyed by arson.

Now the site is due to be rebuilt, with the construction of The Hartley Block — a 63-unit apartment building with 4,000 square feet of retail space at ground level that's named after one of the city's most famous sons, artist Marsden Hartley. The apartments will include both market-rate units and affordable units set aside for households earning at or below 60% of the area median income.

The Szanton Co., a Portland-based developer, announced this week that they've selected Hebert Construction of Lewiston to build The Hartley Block. Construction will start Oct. 1.

Szanton has been in pre-development of The Hartley Block since March 2016. They've obtained site control; obtained financial support from the city by way of a Joint Development Agreement with Tax Increment Financing and a commitment of funds from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (a program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund affordable housing projects); and won an award of Affordable Housing Tax Credits from MaineHousing.

Szanton is working with architectural firm Platz Associates, of Auburn, on the building design. Construction subcontracts for site work, framing, roofing and other items. are expected to be bid out in August.

Catalyst for redevelopment

Reached by phone, Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston's director of economic development, said the site consists of seven lots.

Five of the lots were occupied by three adjoining buildings that were all built in 1895. The buildings housed the original Kora Temple Shrine, YMCA, movie theater, Bliss Business College and offices. Legendary Red Sox catcher and manager Bill Carrigan, who was born in Lewiston, owned one of the buildings from 1912 until his death in 1969. A New England Furniture building occupied the other two lots.

The arson occurred when a couple of young men set a fire on a cold winter night as a distraction from their plan to steal copper from the buildings, Jeffers said. The fire raged out of control.

"It was a terrible loss for Lisbon Street," he said.

Since the fire, the city acquired ownership of the five lots and Platz Associates principal Tom Platz bought the smaller two lots. Jeffers said he's eyed the site as an excellent redevelopment opportunity, with great visibility that could leverage growing pedestrian activity elsewhere along Lisbon Street due to new retail, restaurant and residential activity.

The city and Platz then agreed to sell the lots to Szanton for development, for a total purchase price of $162,000, said Amy Cullen, Szanton's development officer.

The purchase is expected to close this September, Cullen said, with construction to begin shortly thereafter. The investment in construction is expected to be between $8 million and $8.5 million, she said. Construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018.

The architect is still working out the final design, but the overall goal is to bring in architectural elements that acknowledge the downtown's historic architecture, without trying to mimic it, said Cullen.

Plans taking shape

The site is 175 feet long and 100 feet deep.

"That's a really big building," Cullen said. "So we have to try to break up the mass with the design."

The idea is to do that by varying fašade depths, roof heights and windowpane configurations, evoking the sense of several buildings. Classic elements include heavy cornices and arches over some of the windows.

The plan also includes getting some interesting lighting elements on the front of the building. Also a possibility is to incorporate mosaic tile work on the outside that would evoke the Marsden Hartley style. Hartley (1877-1943) was born and raised in Lewiston and, as an adult, he had a studio in the Greely Block, which was located on the Hartley Block site, according to the Szanton release. The firm plans to feature Hartley's works throughout the building, and a plaque on the building front will indicate that the site formerly housed his studio.

According to its website, Szanton specializes in developing mixed-income rental housing in or near downtowns. Since 2003, it's completed seven apartment projects — three in Portland, one in Exeter, N.H., and two in Biddeford. Previously in Lewiston, it completed in 2012 the adaptive re-use of an 1854 Bates Manufacturing Co. textile mill, Mill No. 2 — now called the Lofts at Bates Mill.

Hebert Construction was selected from among four firms interviewed, including AlliedCook of Portland, Benchmark Construction of Westbrook and Zachau Construction of Freeport.

In the company's statement, Nathan Szanton, founder and president, said Hebert Construction of Lewiston was impressive for its track record of successful construction management and its passion for this particular project.

"They share with us a deep desire to repair the fabric of Lisbon Street that was torn by the fires over a decade ago," Szanton said.

Reached separately by phone, Michael Hebert, managing director of Hebert Construction, said he was likewise impressed by Szanton's commitment to honor the area's history in the design.

The project resonates personally, Hebert said.

"Every time I drove by, I hoped someone would develop it someday," he said. "It will be a beautiful building, and it has history to it, too. That's what's so special. We feel fortunate to be part of this project."

For Lewiston, the project has great significance, said Jeffers.

"It's in the heart of the downtown, filling a gaping hole in the block that has been a blighting influence in the neighborhood. We'll have 63 families living downtown and 4,000 square feet of retail space. To make your downtown a vital place, you need people living there. So we're quite excited."

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