BIDDEFORD — The high-pitched whine of saws and sanders echoed through the dim hallways of the Lincoln Mill last week, a familiar sound for the builders and others who have worked inside the giant brick building for years.

But the sound of manufacturing will soon end as 15 businesses move out to make room for a $50 million hotel and housing project heralded by city officials and others as a sign of the redevelopment momentum downtown.

Although many of the current Lincoln Mill tenants say they support the ambitious transformation of the building and the redevelopment of the Biddeford’s downtown, they’re also scrambling to find new spaces to accommodate their businesses on short notice. The 15 businesses in the mill have been there for a combined 77 years.

The forced relocation of the smaller, industrial businesses is a predictable side effect of urban revitalization and the downside of a transition widely seen as positive news for the former mill city. But some owners say they are disappointed that the city hasn’t done more to help them after years of running businesses in a downtown that many others had walked away from.

“(The redevelopment) is nice for everybody else, but it’s not nice for everyone at the building,” said Sergey Fisenko, whose company, Sergey Fisenko Inc., builds high-end custom kitchens and has been based in the mill for 13 years. “I’m scared to death. I don’t have a place to go.”

In January, the city gave developer Tim Harrington the green light to proceed with his project, which will transform the old textile mill building into an 81-room hotel, two restaurants and 96 apartments. Harrington said he expects to break ground on the project this spring and finish by early 2017. The tight timeline for the project means he had no choice but to ask tenants to relocate soon, Harrington said.

SOME BUSINESSES MAY LEAVE CITY

The mill tenants – mostly cabinet and furniture makers with workshops 1,000 square feet or larger – received 45-day eviction notices that gave them until mid-March to vacate the building. Most have since made arrangements to stay through the end of April, but some tenants say they’re having a hard time finding somewhere to move, even with nearly 400,000 square feet of vacant space in the mill district. Much of the city’s sprawling mill complex is being renovated for housing, retail and light industrial space.

Harrington said he has worked with the tenants, and a real estate broker is available to help them find new spaces. He said he had no choice but to serve the eviction notices, but he does not intend to leave anyone without a place to go.

“The legal process is a little daunting because (the eviction notice) has to be handled by a sheriff,” he said. “These are all good, rent-paying tenants, but this is part of the process.”

Michael Ventura, owner of Ventura & Son Stairbuilders, has had a workshop in the mill for 15 years. He said he has no hard feelings toward Harrington and he supports the hotel project because it will restore a building that has fallen into disrepair.

“The end was coming soon anyway,” he said. “The building is pretty rundown.”

But, Ventura said, finding a new space hasn’t been easy. He is considering space in nearby mill buildings and said he may downsize his workshop since most of his work is now done at job sites. He worries about the cost to move – he estimates it could be $10,000 or more for most tenants – and about whether everyone will be able to find space in Biddeford.

“Out of 15 businesses, I bet the city is going to lose half of them,” Ventura said. “That’s a shame.”

SOME SAY CITY NOT HELPFUL ENOUGH

Steve Ryder, who crafts custom furniture and has had his workshop in the mill for a year and a half, said the timing of the eviction notices couldn’t have been worse. This is a particularly busy time of year for him and several other tenants, with large contracts to fill on short deadlines. To look for a new location on short notice has been difficult, he said.

So far, Ryder has seen spaces that cost an additional $2 to $4 per square foot, making it harder for him to stay downtown.

“I love it right here because I live a mile away and I love to walk to work and eat in the local restaurants,” he said. “I know if I do stay I’ll have to downsize.”

Eugene Sherstyukov, a cabinetmaker, said he has been on the phone “all the time” trying to find a new workshop, but he is also in the middle of a large contract that is taking up most of his days.

“It’s not easy,” he said.

Several tenants sharply criticized city officials, saying the city has done little to help them stay in Biddeford. Many tenants met with city officials, who gave them lists of available spaces but could do little else to help, Ventura said.

“They seemed unaware of what was happening, but we’re right across from City Hall,” he said.

confident tenants will find space

Craig Howard of KJS Woodworking, which has had a workshop at the mill for 11 years, said he has been looking for a space in Biddeford, but is also considering moving closer to his home in Portland. Like Ventura, he said he is unimpressed with the city’s response to the needs of the current tenants.

“I think they’re more excited about getting the new hotel than what happens to us,” Howard said. “They tell us they want us to stay in Biddeford and they’re going to be a conduit, but no one has come to me with a property.”

Daniel Stevenson, Biddeford’s economic and community development director, said the city has been trying to help tenants find landlords who have available space.

“When the city found out that tenants in the Lincoln Mill were going to have to relocate, the city did reach out and collected inventory data to see what their needs were in order to help facilitate finding new spaces,” Stevenson said.

Harrington, the developer, said he is confident that most tenants will be able to find new locations in Biddeford because of the availability of space. He said the moves, though difficult on short notice, could be good for the mill district because it may consolidate industrial uses to the same area.

Harrington said he is also looking forward to working with many of the tenants on aspects of his hotel project by including things such as custom staircases and other products they create.

“It goes toward part of the story of the project,” he said.

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

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