Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: August 5, 2020

Waterville developer Mitchell turns his focus to residential property

Photo / Maureen Milliken Development is underway at 59 Main St. in Waterville, the latest project by developer Bill Mitchell. At right is the construction of the Lockwood Hotel, a Colby College project. Mitchell's GHM Insurance is to the left of the hotel.

It's hard to miss the activity on the last southern block of Main Street in downtown Waterville, between the construction of Colby College's Lockwood Hotel, the renovation of 14-20 Main St. across the street and the major water system upgrade that's underway.

Now, another project has been added to the mix. Renovation has started on 59 Main St., a three-story brick building on the corner of Common and Main streets that developer Bill Mitchell bought last year.

Mitchell is doing a total renovation of the building, which most recently was home to Larsen's Jewelry, that will include two-bedroom market rate apartments on the second and third floor, as well as ground floor commercial space. He expects it to be ready for occupancy in the fall.

The 59 Main St. project also marks a change in focus for Mitchell, who owns more tha 130,000 square feet of property, most of it commercial, in the city. He's now jumping on the residential market, particularly market-rate apartments, a need that already exists and he expects demand to only increase.

"I'm really excited," he told Mainebiz this week. "Most of my real estate development has been in commercial property, but I feel the time is right, and the time has come to dive into residential."

Besides the two market-rate apartments downtown, Mitchell has under contract two residential properties on Park Street, just north of downtown. One, the former rectory of the First Baptist Church, he plans to convert into a two-family space with a large two-bedroom apartment and a large three-bedroom apartment. The other property is a duplex that he plans to maintain as a duplex.

The new projects bring the number of residential units he has in Waterville to 15, but he doesn't plan to stop there.

"There are a lot more older properties in the city of Waterville that create opportunities that myself, or others, can invest in," he said. He particularly likes bringing older buildings "back to their original grandeur."

Mitchell isn't concerned about competition from the 132 market-rate and workforce apartments planned for the former Lockwood mill, two blocks south of 59 Main St. He said there's room for both large projects like the mill renovation, as well as his smaller projects.

"All indicators are there's a need for market-rate apartments in Waterville," he said. And, he added, "there are many two, three, four-family buildings in Waterville in need of investment."

An under construction building on a city street, with a crane in the street working on a nother building across the street
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Colby College's under-construction Lockwood Hotel, as well as the redevelopment of 14-20 Main St., across the street, continue, part of a flurry of activity in downtown Waterville.

'A great location'

It all ties in to the surge in downtown renovation, much of it driven by Colby, but also by a variety of smaller developers.

In the past five years, Mitchell has bought and renovated 14-18 and 20-24 Common St., adjacent to 59 Main St., the former American Legion building at 100 College Ave., which he renovated into The Elm event space; added 13,500 square feet to Penny HIll Park, a commercial building on Kennedy Memorial Drive, and more.

Mitchell's latest downtown acquisition gives him a block of property on Common and Main streets, that also includes 51 Main St., where his day job, as owner of GHM Insurance, is.

"It's a great location," Mitchell said of the 3,500-square-foot building at 59 Main St. "And what's going on around it complements it."

What's going on around it includes the under-construction Lockwood and the renovation of long-vacant 14-20 Main St. into an arts collaborative. Across Castonguay Square from 59 Main St., Colby, in collaboration with Waterville Creates!, plans to renovate The Center building at 93 Main St. into an arts hub.

The Kennebec Water District has also started replacing the downtown water system, taking advantage of a $7 million road restructuring slated to begin soon that will make Main Street two-way, among other changes.

The project was one of 10 in April to be awarded a facade grant from the Central Maine Growth Council. Mitchell said the new facade is "going to be beautiful," with new windows and a total face lift. The apartments, too, are complete renovations, as is the building's heating system, plumbing and more.


Photo / Maureen Milliken
Bill Mitchell, last year in The Elm, the former American Legion building in Waterville that he renovated into an event space.

Residential development roots

Despite his focus on commercial development over the past decade, Mitchell's development roots began in residential property.

His father, Paul Mitchell, who owned the insurance agency Mitchell now owns, was also a residential real estate developer on the side. Mitchell as a boy would tag along with his father, sweeping up and raking, as well as soaking up the business. His father was his first development partner when the two bought KMD Plaza, a 10,500-square-foot multi-unit commercial property in 2005.

The residential market that needs attention right now, Mitchell said, is the one for families moving into the city to work at Colby, MaineGeneral or some other business, who want to get a feel for the area before buying a house. He doesn't see that need slowing as the city develops.

"There's always going to be a need for nicer housing, both at the apartment level and single-family homes," he said.

He's considering getting into single family home development — he owns some land in the city that would work well for it — but for now is focused on apartments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a bump in the road for some of Mitchell's recent projects. The Elm, the event space he developed in the former American Legion building opened in September, but has been shut down this year because of the pandemic. The Proper Pig, the restaurant he co-owns in his Common Street property, has also taken a hit.

But Mitchell doesn't dwell on things he can't change. Despite the pandemic, momentum hasn't slowed on the development front in Waterville, and he's excited about being part of it, his smaller projects a complement to the larger development going on.

As a developer, he's naturally optimistic, and sees the "collective energy" that's driving development in the city carrying through the next five or 10 years. He said that energy not only includes Colby's projects, but the smaller developers who, like him, see the potential in Waterville.

"As disruptive as COVID-19 has been, it hasn't really disrupted what's happening in Waterville," Mitchell says. "I'm excited to be a small part of it." 

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF