“The Barn” on Minot Avenue in Auburn was part of a $40 million plan backed by Chinese investors to create a health and wellness hotel aligned with Central Maine Medical Center. Sun Journal 2017 photo

AUBURN — The properties at the heart of a stalled medical tourism redevelopment effort are back on the market.

The properties, including “The Barn” at 67 Minot Ave., were part of an ambitious $40 million plan backed by Chinese investors to create a health and wellness hotel aligned with Central Maine Medical Center. But, there have no signs of life for the project for some time, due to a restrictive EB-5 visa program and changes at CMMC.

The former shoe factory was purchased by Miracle Enterprise in 2015, a sale that also included a former car dealership at 81 Minot Ave. Later that year, the company also bought the former Auburn police station at 1 Minot Ave. Now, four years later, all three properties are packaged together for $5 million.

Its chairwoman, Shi Qi, was also chairwoman of the Beijing-based Guo Tou Sheng Tong Investment Co., which was expected to finance the $40 million effort to convert the former Lunn and Sweet shoe factory into the state-of-the-art medical hotel.

Shortly after the sale, the Chinese investors and city officials held a press conference, boasting the city could expect 5,000 wealthy Chinese citizens to stay at the new luxury medical tourism facility planned for The Barn in its first year.

However, according to Michael Chammings, director of Economic and Community Development, the redevelopment hinged on a visa program known as EB-5, which, due to restrictions at the federal level, has held up the project for years.

The program grants green cards to foreign investors and sets them on the path to U.S. citizenship, in exchange for a significant business investment on U.S. soil. However, Maine was not yet an approved EB-5 regional center, as the state waited on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which must approve all regional centers.

“What was supposed to take a few months turned into a number of years,” Chammings said Friday about the EB-5 program. “By the time it came into Maine, it was over two years, which is a long time to hold a project up. For people who want to invest in that project, to hold them up for two years, it just doesn’t work in a business plan.”

While that was held up, there was also leadership and financial changes at CMMC. While the former CEO of CMMC parent Central Maine Healthcare, Peter Chalke, had been closely involved in project discussions, that shifted once a new CEO came on board.

A hospital spokesperson told the Sun Journal in 2017, “To say that we will be or won’t be involved is kind of like grasping at a cloud. There’s nothing there.”

Chammings, as well as the listing broker, Lily Huang for Legacy Realty, said Friday that there is potential for the properties to be redeveloped into housing.

“The site has had quite a few people show interest in it for reasons other than medical tourism,” Chammings said.

“They decided not to go forward,” Huang said Friday, adding that the decision was due to the EB-5 program and “the political climate now.”

But, Huang said, they see potential for the properties to be used for housing, a retirement community, or business complex.

“There’s good potential because its a major street in Lewiston-Auburn, which averages a daily traffic count of 30,000,” she said.

The listing on Legacy describes the property as having “endless possibilities.”

“This large mill with its huge open space offers 4 floors, elevators and stairs. Centrally located downtown Auburn could be converted into an individual professional office space for many different types of businesses or housing development,” it states.

The four-story brick factory was built in 1908, with additions in 1912 and 1914. Hundreds of Lunn and Sweet workers turned out thousands of pairs of shoes each day, including their claim to fame: Ye Olde Tyme Comfort Shoes.

Despite the building sitting vacant for some time, Chammings said it is structurally sound and has been through environmental testing.

According to a 2017 Sun Journal story, the former factory had been repeatedly burglarized, forcing Miracle Enterprise to spend some $50,000 to secure the building, install lights, put in a security system and remove highly combustible chemicals that were left behind by a cleaner it had hired.

Huang said the listing went live Thursday.


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