SANFORD – Local and national officials gathered Monday in Sanford to celebrate the opening of a commercial and residential project in a historic former textile mill in the heart of the downtown.

Northland Enterprises’ Sanford Mill redevelopment project was heralded as a success story in the former mill town. U.S. Sen. Angus King called the project “an outstanding testament to all that can be achieved when local, state and federal officials work collaboratively with private entities on behalf of our communities.”

The 66,500-square-foot building, located within the 7.5-acre Sanford Mills Historic District, was almost fully occupied before it officially opened. The historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Many people used to look at this building and not see opportunity. Today, with two out of six commercial (spaces) and 30 out of 36 residential spaces leased before opening, the obvious message is: We believe in Sanford and you should too,” Northland Enterprises partner Josh Benthien said in a prepared statement.

Sanford Mill is considered an important piece of the 14-building complex founded in 1867 by industrialist Thomas Goodall. The mill was the first in the country to manufacture fine dyed wool fabrics and, from the 1890s to 1910, was the catalyst for a wave of French Canadian immigrants who made their way to Sanford.

The mill closed in 1955, costing the city more than 3,500 local jobs. Since then, Sanford has struggled to revive its local economy. The city sold the Sanford Mill to Northland Enterprises for $198,000 in 2011, several years after it was taken by eminent domain when it fell into disrepair.

The renovation of the three-story building was funded by a $3.7 million grant from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It also received a $495,000 Riverfront Community Development grant from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

“An iconic structure in downtown Sanford has been given new life, meaning new jobs and new investment for the region,” George Gervais, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said in a prepared statement. “This project is the perfect example of the public sector moving at the speed of business to identify and help secure much-needed funds to partner with a private-sector development.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com