March 4, 2013

Developers propose downtown hotel, restaurant in Biddeford mill

The 40-room hotel, with a 6,000-square-foot high-end restaurant, would overlook the Saco River.

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The company that owns the sprawling Pepperell Mill Campus is seeking permission to build what would become downtown Biddeford's only hotel.

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Scott Joslin, COO of the Pepperell Mill Campus, stands inside the site of a proposed hotel and restaurant Monday, March 4, 2013 to be located at the old Biddeford mill complex.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Pepperell Mill Campus in Biddeford on Monday, March 4, 2013, where a 40-room hotel and high-end restaurant is being proposed.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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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.

(Continued on page 2)

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