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May 28, 2018
Focus: Lewiston / Auburn

Rebirth of Lewiston's downtown features retail, restaurants and residences

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Dianna Pozdniakov, founder and designer of Sofia Fima, and her husband Kevin Morin, owner of PoMo and Co., in the retail ground-floor space in the Lisbon Street building they renovated.
Map Data / Google
Lisbon Street’s resurgence: Lewiston’s downtown has seen a rebirth with new investment in shops, restaurants and apartments. (1) 46 Lisbon St.: Former Lewiston Deposit & Trust, now Sofia Fima and apartments (2) 110 Lisbon St.: Former Lamey Wellehan, soon The Curio (3) 12 Ash St.: Basement space renovated as Sonder & Dram (4) 145-177 Lisbon St.: The Hartley Block construction underway (5) 199 Lisbon St.: Last occupied by Compass Coin and Jewelry, in renovation for mixed-use
Photo / Tim Greenway
At 110 Lisbon St., artist Sheri Withers Hollenbeck, her husband Stan Hollenbeck and their partner Corey DuFour are turning the old Lamey Wellehan building, vacant since the 1990s, into The Curio, an art gallery, ale house and makerspace.
Photo / Tim Greenway
Jules Patry in one of the upper floors in a building on Lisbon Street he is renovating for commercial and residential use.
Rendering / Caleb Johnson Studio
Portland Pie Co. has signed a letter of intent to be an anchor tenant in an old fire substation at 188 Lincoln St. in Lewiston. The site will be redeveloped.

Downtown initiatives

Recent efforts to spruce up downtown Lewiston include:

The city created a downtown historic district, with a significant number of buildings within the district considered contributing structures, streamlining the application process for historic tax credits.

The city acquired at no cost 1.5 miles of canals, enhancing the downtown and its walkability. The seller was Brookfield Renewable.

Mike Dostie, owner of J. Dostie Jewelers, is spearheading a downtown stakeholders' association to work on common issues. Still in its infancy, the group stems from a surge of downtown development in recent years and the need for guidance moving forward, says Dostie. "We're looking at everything, from beautification and holiday lighting to zoning and business incubator programs." To start, the group is launching a website (downtownlewiston.com) as a resource for prospective investors, residents and visitors. "Downtown has made some great strides and there is still work to be done, but we can start by highlighting our assets and reintroduce downtown Lewiston as a regional destination."

Lewiston's downtown redevelopment goes beyond Lisbon Street

Beyond Lewiston's highly visible redevelopment of downtown Lisbon Street and the Bates Mill complex is a small-scale project in the works.

The prospective renovation of the former Lewiston Fire Department substation at 188 Lincoln St. is being taken on by two people with a vision for what is now a neglected property.

Kara Wilbur, an urban planner at Principle Group in Portland and co-chair of Build Maine, and Paul Peck, chairman of MEREDA, real estate developer at LWS Development and a real estate attorney at Drummond & Drummond, have an option to purchase the property from the city for $1, pending identification of a commercial tenant.

Rehabilitation for ground-floor commercial use and two second-story residential units is estimated to cost $600,000 to $800,000.

Wilbur says she became interested in the building, which dates to 1964, when she saw it was slated for demolition.

"I wondered if there could be a different pathway," Wilbur says. Why this property? "Because it was in great shape - really solid concrete and masonry. The interior is a cool open space."

Caleb Johnson Studio's rendering of what it will look like would be a significant upgrade from what you can see on the Google street view.

Wilbur and Peck have a letter of intent signed with a tenant, Portland Pie Co., and expect to finalize the lease in the coming weeks. After that, they will push to get the final OK from the National Park Service for historic tax credits and begin the renovation.

Though it's located on the fringe of the downtown commercial activity, Wilbur says the neighborhood has vitality.

"This is really looking at expanding that area of energy so that it's pulled more toward the river and out further toward Lincoln Street," she says.

Photos snapped a few years ago of the 19th century Lewiston Deposit & Trust building at 46 Lisbon St., in Lewiston, show marble upper-story floors, rich with creamy speckling.

It turns out they're wood floors, inundated with pigeon droppings.

"These rooms were closed up by the time we got here, but the pigeons had been here for a while, so the whole place was covered with droppings," Kevin Morin says wryly, as he displays "before" photos on his phone.

Now it's "after," and Morin and his wife Dianna Pozdniakov, have completed the building's award-winning renovation. After projects like tearing out old asbestos, putting in new sheetrock, refinishing those floors and repurposing original elements like gas light fixtures as LED sconces, they've installed their apartment on the third floor and a rental on the second. On the street level, they have Pozdniakov's handbag business, Sofia Fima, plus event and collaborative workspace.

It's part of a change taking place in downtown Lewiston. It's a work in progress, as owners, users and investors buy and renovate buildings, many of which date to the 19th century, and convert them for retail, restaurants, offices and residences.

"We've been very pleased with the investments we're seeing," says Lincoln Jeffers, director of the Lewiston Economic and Community Development Department. "We've had downtown buildings that have been vacant on the upper floors for many years. But they have great historical character. And they're getting bought and redeveloped."

Work in progress

That activity is seen in numerous projects. Morin and Pozdniakov had been architects living in New York. Their move to Maine in 2014 was about testing a different lifestyle. Lewiston is Morin's hometown, and they connected with the owners of 46 Lisbon, who ran Terry's Bridal Fashions there and wanted to sell. The couple, seeing new energy in Lewiston's downtown, leaped.

"When I left Lewiston in 2000, Lisbon Street didn't have any of this at the time," Morin says. "We started to meet people who were enthusiastic and trying to get more things going, and we wanted to be part of that. Everything that's down here has happened in that last 10 or 11 years. This much or even more could happen in the next five or 10 years."

At 110 Lisbon St., artist Sheri Withers Hollenbeck, her husband Stan Hollenbeck and their partner Corey DuFour are turning the old Lamey Wellehan building, vacant since the 1990s, into The Curio, an art gallery, ale house and makerspace.

At 199 Lisbon St., Jules Patry, owner of DaVinci's Eatery in the nearby Bates Mill, acquired the building and is doing renovations. He removed old sheathing and revealed an 1883 façade with massive steel columns. He's renovating it for mixed use.

At 12 Ash St., just off Lisbon, Peter Flanders, Rick Roy and Michael Gosselin transformed a basement space into the bar and eatery Sonder & Dram.

A sampling of other activity in the past decade includes:

  • Adam Tüüri and Eben Dingman opened the nano-brewery Bear Bones Beer at 43 Lisbon St. in 2015.
  • John Grenier moved Rainbow Cycle from Auburn to 97 Lisbon St. for greater visibility; he's also leasing space to Quiet City Books and Ben's Burrito.
  • In 2012, Allen Smith opened Forage Market, a coffee-and-bagel hangout, at 180 Lisbon St. He leases second-story space to a yoga studio and The Hive, an artist cooperative.
  • At 84 Lisbon St., another former bank building, Keith Tannenbaum in 2016 purchased The Vault, a wine and craft beer store that opened in 2011.
  • Eateries like Fuel, Marche, Mother India, Orchid and Guthrie's opened within a few blocks of each other.
  • In 2016, Rinck Advertising moved headquarters from Auburn to the former W.T Grant department store at 113 Lisbon St.; and Anchour, the web design/development company, moved to 223 Lisbon St.
  • In February, Portland developer The Szanton Co. broke ground on The Hartley Block. Replacing three historic buildings at 145-177 Lisbon St. destroyed by arson, it will provide 63 residential units and 4,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space.
  • Parallel to Lisbon Street and a couple of blocks west, Platz Associates of Auburn continues to redevelop The Bates Mill for commercial/residential use.

Old downtown

In 2005, Eric and Carrie Agren bought the thousand-seat Lyceum Hall, built in 1871, at 49 Lisbon St. After restoration for ground-floor commercial and upper-story residential, he opened the French bistro Fuel, followed by Marche at 40 Lisbon St.

Agren, Patry and Platz Associates principal Tom Platz and are credited by others as instrumental in the downtown's resurgence.

Sonder & Dram's Gosselin, an Auburn native, says decades ago, locals and visitors frequented Lisbon Street: "This was a shopping center to rival anything in the Northeast at that time. People came from Camden and Boston to shop in Lewiston."

The advent of shopping malls, then mill closures, ended that. The downtown grew derelict.

"When I said I was moving here, most people thought I was crazy," says Rainbow Cycle's Grenier. "'Downtown Lewiston? Why do you want to go there? It's drugs and prostitutes.' I would say that was a reality 10 or more years ago. It's not reality at all now. But we have residents who have lived here their whole lives and they won't even drive through. 'Oh, no, I avoid that. It's dangerous.'"

The bandwagon

Then the redevelopment surge began.

"Once people started seeing others doing it, they started jumping on," says Sonder & Dram's Roy. "Now it's full force. A lot of investors want to buy buildings on this street and fix them up."

The new businesses are complemented by the Gendron Franco Center, Public Theatre, Museum L/A and L/A Arts; community activities like art walks, shopping showcases and festivals; and amenities like greenway trails.

Androvise Realty broker Chad Sylvester has seen the change, working in downtown Lewiston since 2003.

"There were substantially fewer transactions then," he says. "When Eric Agren built Fuel, I think that spurred downtown energy that we hadn't seen before."

Sylvester notes that restaurant and retail activity along downtown Lisbon's northern blocks tends to get attention, but new activity also occurred along the southern section, like the 2010 arrival of Purdue University Global, at 475 Lisbon St. He and others say they expect new residents arriving at The Hartley Block will spur more vitality.

Many credit the immigrant community for adding energy, too.

"The children of the first wave of immigrants have graduated from college and are coming home, starting families and starting businesses," says Jeffers.

In 2006, Shukri Abasheikh, a Somali immigrant, opened one of the most popular businesses, Mogadishu Store at 240 Lisbon St. Back then, she recalls, the downtown was not especially nice-looking.

"Not a lot of people," she says. But the area was ideal for her family, being less chaotic and more walkable than Atlanta, where they'd lived before. Even those who leave for places like New York inevitably return to Lewiston, she says. All but one of her eight children, age 13 to 34, remain in Lewiston.

"Now it's very good. A lot of business, a lot of people, a lot of markets," she says.

The forecast

New collaborations, city initiatives and affordability continue to drive downtown redevelopment.

"We have a 2,400-square-foot apartment and we pay $1,000 per month with utilities included," says Hollenbeck. "In Portland, we were in an extremely small apartment for $1,000 with nothing included, and that was close to 10 years ago. So you definitely get a lot more bang for your buck here."

Rent for The Hive, displaying artwork by 15 artists, is $550 with utilities included.

"That's what a lot of studios go for in Portland for a cubicle," she continues. "We get calls and emails from Portland artists who are getting priced out."

But there's more to be done. A stroll down Lisbon reveals buildings available for purchase or underutilized, like the massive Depositors Trust Building, at 55 Lisbon St., on the market for $595,000. Sylvester lists the 1886 Sands Building, at 124 Lisbon St., at $374,000, and adjacent 130 and 136 Lisbon, built in 1916, as a package at $350,000.

Prices like that, with additional renovation, could make further investment tricky. Even with Pozdniakov and Morin's purchase of 46 Lisbon for only $42,000, they spent almost $500,000 on renovation.

"The buildings require a lot of love to bring them up to what they deserve to be," says Pozdniakov. "It's challenging for someone to make the numbers work."

All agree that more retail and residential is needed.

"We need a shoe store, a boutique, a gift shop — things like that that, where someone can come here and spend two hours walking around, like you would in downtown Portland," says Grenier. "We don't have that quite yet."

But things are coming around.

"I think there are still a lot of people in the surrounding community who are used to Lisbon Street being downtrodden that they don't realize what's going on here," Hollenbeck says. "I screen-print a lot of 'I Love Lewiston' T-shirts. I'll wear one and get comments like, 'I wouldn't be caught dead wearing that.' I say, 'When was the last time you were there?' It's like, 'I haven't really been.' So there's this disconnect. We have beautiful architecture. We've got good housing stock. We've got restaurants and breweries. And you can afford to support them because you're not paying thousands for rent."

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