Stebbins Noah / July 27, 2021
Lewiston-Auburn has emerged as a popular market for developers and businesses, as motivated city officials aim to spur new development. Although new development initiatives in both cities are focused on addressing the housing shortage, there are several notable projects that will transform each city and businesses have taken notice. Local and national companies of all types continue to express interest in entering the market or expanding at their current facilities, despite soaring costs of new construction.
Like many areas throughout Maine, Lewiston-Auburn has a housing shortage and this has been the focus of many developers. There are several new projects currently in development – with more in the pipeline – as city officials and developers work in unison to address the issue.
This past spring, the city of Lewiston received a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant (CNIG), which is expected to leverage $100 million in supplementary development money using tax credits and various other sources. A large portion of the grant money will be aimed towards the redevelopment of multiple public housing sites focused on the Tree Streets neighborhood. Over the next few years, 185 new housing units will be built across three strategic sites and nearly 1,500 lead-contaminated and older housing units will be replaced or rehabbed – a vital step to the city’s long-term growth and sustainability. Immediate plans will replace 92 distressed units and add 93 new workforce and market rate units. Misty Parker, who serves as the Economic Development Manager for the city of Lewiston, says “Lewiston is the first city of its size to receive the grant and I expect the grant to serve as a catalyst for increased investment in the Tree Street neighborhood through critical neighborhood improvements and services to residents living in the target housing units.” Parker also said that the grant money will focus on “job training, education, and healthcare access” aimed at lifting the neighborhood out of poverty.
The city of Auburn has also been proactive in working with developers to grow the city’s housing crop. In early 2021, Mayor Jason Levesque called for 2,000 new homes to be built within the next five to seven years. Last spring, the city listed seven city-owned properties for sale with The Boulos Company, highlighted below:
Recent projects in the pipeline (or that have been completed) include 48 Hampshire Street, a mixed-income 53-unit residential building developed by the Szanton Company which opened in June of 2020; 48 units under development by River’s Edge Apartments at 273 North River Road and 204 Broad Street; and the Gracelawn Luxury Apartments, a 48-unit luxury apartment complex located at 10 Gracelawn Road. The owners are in the process of getting a Certificate of Occupancy for the final building of the development. The former St. Louis Church on 32 Dunn Street and the six vacant lots referenced above will spur further development, especially considering that projects that create at least $2 million in assessable value with the district may be eligible for a Credit Enhancement to assist with development costs. According to Eric Cousens, Auburn’s Deputy Director of Economic and Community Development, the housing shortage, coupled with high rents and rising home sale prices, have prevented people from moving to the city. Furthermore, the city is offering incentives to spur new development, including a maximum of $250,000 per project to assist with substantial development. Auburn’s City Council has allocated $1 million toward downtown redevelopment projects. Moreover, a record number of permits were issued in 2021, highlighted in the below picture.
The demand for industrial spaces continues to outpace supply, with vacancy rates at historic lows. Furthermore, the costs of new construction and supply chain issues have proved to be challenging for owner-users and developers alike – however, there are still a few notable new projects in the pipeline. Traditional anchor retail stores tend to be in high traffic areas, near highways, and where public transportation is readily available. These factors make these locations prime contenders for adaptive reuse projects. Last year, the owner of the Promenade Mall in Lewiston, located at 855 Lisbon Street, converted the former Flagship Cinema into an 83,000± SF warehouse facility, which was leased to NEPW Logistics. In response to the industrial demand in Lewiston, the owner plans to build an additional 64,800± SF industrial building at the Promenade Mall and another 48,000± SF industrial building on Gendron Drive in Lewiston. Additionally, Valley Beverage, located at 2075 S Lisbon Road in Lewiston, received approvals for a 33,000± SF addition, which will lead to 24 new jobs.
In Auburn, F.W. Webb Co. has proposed a new 66,675± SF warehouse, showroom, and distribution facility to kick off development at the Auburn Commerce Center, located off Exit 75 along Kittyhawk Avenue. Auburn Commerce Center features 3,900± SF – 452,600± SF of build-to-suit space for lease on 109.5 Acres.
Other notable projects under construction or in the pipeline include FutureGuard Building Products’ 100,000± SF $3.6 million expansion (pictured below), the 14-building Mystique Way Cannabis Park, and N.S. Giles Foundations Inc’s new 23,000± SF industrial building at 46 Wright’s Landing in which 3,584± SF – 5,640± SF will be available for lease.
The office sector, arguable the hardest hit asset class over the pandemic, continues to lag, as employers question their need for physical office space – traditionally a high overhead cost. Although signs of normalcy are starting to return, vacancy rates continue to soar. For instance, the Liberty Mutual building at 1775 Lisbon Street in Lewiston has 71,000± SF available, the Lewiston Fair Grounds on Mollison Way has 52,000± SF available, 95 Main Street in Auburn has 14,981± SF available for lease and the 32,222± SF office building is also for sale. L.L. Bean recently pulled out of the Peck Building in Lewiston, leading to 33,370± SF of Class A office space availability at 184 Main Street in Lewiston, and TD Bank is only occupying half of their 169,000± SF space at the Bates Mill.
On a positive note, we have noticed an uptick in office sale activity. 86 Lisbon Street, 475 Lisbon Street, 152-168 Lisbon Street, and 415 Lisbon Street, which are all office buildings located in downtown Lewiston, have either gone under contract or closed in recent months. Furthermore, the Lewiston Auburn Chamber of Commerce recently launched a new program called JumpStartME (https://lametrochamber.com/jumpstartme/) aimed at attracting new business and economic growth in downtown Lewiston. Misty Parker says that the program will “attract new business and add to the vitality of Lisbon Street.” Additional details on the program can be found below:
In Auburn, Dirigo Architectural Engineering, who are based out of Turner, recently received site plan approval from the City of Auburn for a new a 6,000±-7,000± SF office building located on First Flight Drive (renderings pictured below).
Regarding the healthcare sector, Central Maine Healthcare broke ground on their new $38 million cancer center in Lewiston last fall. According to the healthcare system’s CEO, Jeff Brockman, the 52,000± SF building “brings together comprehensive cutting-edge oncology care from diagnosis to treatment in one consolidated facility that allows for coordinated care in a way that we’ve never been able to provide before.” The former 9,760± SF Rite Aid located at 987 Lisbon Street in Lewiston (pictured below) recently hit the market and multiple healthcare companies have expressed interest in the property. All signs point to a deal coming together soon.
In 2019, Maine’s last Kmart store shuttered its door in Auburn at 603 Center Street, leaving yet another massive retail vacancy. Fortunately, Target recently proposed a $9.6 million renovation at the 105,000± SF former big-box store, which is expected to open in the near future. Staples also announced that they will be vacating their location at 855 Lisbon Street in Lewiston to occupy the former 23,748± SF Office Max at 89 Union Street in Auburn, with an anticipated grand opening this fall. Staples will vacate 23,500± SF space on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, providing a great opportunity for larger retailers looking to break into the Lewiston market. Finally, the Auburn Marketplace, located at 1779 Washington Street South, is currently under construction. The property is directly adjacent to Exit 75, featuring 1,500± SF – 9,000± SF of retail/office space and co-tenanted with a national quick service restaurant with a drive-thru.
The time has never been better to consider investing or moving your business to Lewiston-Auburn. Motivated city officials, coupled with exciting new development projects make this a market that everyone should keep a close eye on as the twin cities continue to transform and attract new investment.
For questions regarding the Lewiston-Auburn market, contact Noah today:
Noah Stebbins – Associate