A developer with a history of reinventing old mills has purchased a high-profile Westbrook building, the latest investment to underscore a revitalization of the city’s downtown.

Chinburg Properties, of Newmarket, New Hampshire, this month closed on the $5.1 million purchase of the Dana Warp Mill at 90 Bridge St. from local investor Aleksandar “Sasa” Cook.

The five-story brick building stretches along the Presumpscot River and overlooks downtown Westbrook, and has become a symbol of the city’s economic rebranding from an odorous mill town with a dirty river to a home for high-tech business and a desirable place to live. The city hired a new economic development director last year amid what officials called a surge of new energy in the downtown.

The 246,000-square-foot former textile mill is now about 70 percent leased by dozens of commercial tenants.

Buying a renovated mill with existing tenants is an unusual move for the company, which typically buys and redevelops vacant mill buildings, said President and CEO Eric Chinburg. His projects usually consist of a mix of residential and commercial spaces, and the purchase could lead to the addition of apartments at the mill to complement existing commercial tenants.

“If you are going to renovate one of these buildings from what has been a deserted and abandoned building and bring it back to life, you can’t do it and just count on commercial tenants, because the (commercial) rent is generally less than apartments,” Chinburg said.

The price Chinburg paid is about double the $2.5 million that Cook paid for the Warp mill seven years ago.

The company plans to meet with current tenants and decide whether the remaining 56,000 square feet of unused space should be used for commercial tenants or converted to apartments. Limited parking is the biggest constraint on getting the mill fully leased, Chinburg said. Apartments could ease that problem because residents and businesses could use the same parking spots at different times of the day.

“It is an interesting little puzzle; we don’t want to do anything but help our current tenants and businesses do well,” Chinburg said.

“If we can find commercial tenants and find sufficient parking for them, that would work fine,” he said. “If we can’t find additional parking, offsetting commercial and residential would work.”

Most of the offices and businesses in the mill were closed Wednesday afternoon. The building houses artisans, nonprofits and small tech companies among other commercial tenants. American Roots, a local apparel manufacturer, and North Spore, a company that grows specialty mushrooms, have space in the mill.

“We don’t really know anything,” Tamar Morrow, the receptionist at the Douglas, McDaniel & Campo law firm, said when asked about the sale. Tenants have received letters by certified mail notifying them about the sale, she said.

“All we know is that the building is being sold or has been sold,” Morrow said.

Westbrook Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson said Wednesday that Chinburg has a good reputation for restoring old industrial buildings. When he directed economic development in Biddeford, Stevenson saw the company redevelop an empty textile mill in neighboring Saco into 12 commercial spaces and 150 apartments.

“I was able to witness firsthand how he took a vacant mill building open to the elements and completely transformed it,” Stevenson said. “Everything that he has done down there, and in New Hampshire, everything he has touched has turned to gold.”

Adequate parking has been a challenge since before Cook bought the mill. The building sale may accelerate city plans to develop a parking management system for that part of town, Stevenson said.

“I think we are going to have to sit down and have a discussion, what those problems are and how to mitigate them,” he said.

Chinburg has redeveloped and manages about 11 former mills in and around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and in Saco. The company is a partner with developer Tim Harrington in turning the unused Lincoln Mill in Biddeford into apartments.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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Twitter: PeteL_McGuire


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