BIDDEFORD – The company that owns the sprawling Pepperell Mill Campus is seeking permission to build what would become downtown Biddeford’s only hotel.
The 40-room hotel, with a 6,000-square-foot high-end restaurant, would be in a former textile mill building overlooking the Saco River. Developers and city officials say the project would add a needed ingredient to the city’s urban core and spur more growth in an area that is drawing renewed interest and investment.
“That kind of growth will help facilitate more growth in the mill district,” said Daniel Stevenson, Biddeford’s director of economic development. “Imagine going to a small city and not having rooms (for rent) in the urban core. There’s an absolute need for that, and starting with a boutique hotel makes a whole heck of a lot of sense.”
City officials are focusing on redeveloping the site of the Maine Energy Recovery Co., whose trash incinerator closed at the end of last year. They say MERC’s departure could lead to more development as Biddeford overcomes the stigma of having a trash incinerator in its historic downtown and mill district. The MERC property is on the opposite side of the mill district from the site of the proposed hotel.
The Mills at Pepperell, a division of the 1.1 million-square-foot Pepperell Mill Campus, is proposing the hotel and restaurant in Building 20, a vacant four-story brick building near the entrance to the redeveloped North Dam Mill.
Building 20, whose exterior wall makes up the “Great Wall of Biddeford” along Main Street, has been empty since WestPoint Home closed its textile manufacturing operation in 2009.
Pepperell Mill Campus is owned by a developer, Doug Sanford. Its chief operating officer, Scott Joslin, said a well-known chef from Maine would open the restaurant, but he would not identify the chef because the deal has not been finalized.
The restaurant would be on the first floor of the building, with entrances from Main Street and the parking area outside the North Dam Mill. It would have an outdoor seating area near Main Street and across from Mechanics Park, and a “funky bar with an industrial feel,” Joslin said.
The hotel, which Sanford would develop, would be on the top three floors of the building. The small, boutique hotel would have as many as 40 rooms, depending on how the space is divided.
Joslin estimates that the Mills at Pepperell would invest $4 million to prepare the building for the hotel and restaurant.
“There’s no quality, interesting hotel in this area,” he said.
There has not been a hotel in downtown Biddeford in recent memory. Neighboring Saco also lacks a hotel downtown. Hotels and motels in the two cities primarily are along Route 1 and near Maine Turnpike exits.
The Biddeford Planning Board will conduct a conceptual review of the project Wednesday. City Planner Greg Tansley said the review is an optional first step in the Planning Board approval process that gives developers a chance to speak informally with the board and receive feedback about their plans.
If the hotel project wins approval in the coming weeks, construction is expected to begin in 2014. Joslin said the hotel and restaurant would be developed simultaneously.
Tansley said he expects parking to be a “large part of the conversation” between the developers and the Planning Board.
The city requires hotels to provide one parking space per room plus additional spaces for employees, but the board has the discretion to waive those requirements downtown.
Tansley said the requirement could be waived if the developers show there is no need for so much parking or if there is available parking throughout the downtown.
The city is considering building a municipal parking garage elsewhere on the Pepperell Mill Campus to address a parking shortage, said Stevenson, the economic development director. The city would buy a parcel from Sanford to build the garage, which the city would operate.
Craig Pendleton, executive director for the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the hotel might be especially attractive to visitors to the University of New England’s Biddeford campus, people who come to Biddeford and Saco for business, or tourists who want to explore the area.
It also makes “good sense” to have a hotel within walking distance of the Amtrak train station in Saco, he said.
“I think it’s a great way to tie a lot of our mill area and Main Street together,” Pendleton said. “While competition seems to sometimes be detrimental, Biddeford has a unique ethnic flavor to its restaurants. Adding one more can only continue to bring people to Biddeford-Saco.”
Joslin said he is looking forward to adding a hotel and restaurant to Biddeford as others invest in redeveloping the area.
“All these pieces are coming together down here. We’re excited about what the rest of Main Street is doing too,” he said. “This city is on its way.”
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: