BIDDEFORD — The City Council took another step toward providing a credit enhancement in conjunction with the development of the former Saco Lowell Mill in Biddeford on Nov. 10, but the Joint Development Agreement will be back before the council for final adoption in a month or two.

Tom Watson & Co. LLC, also known as Port Property Management, plans to purchase and develop the former Saco Lowell building at 59 Elm St., creating 100 market rate apartments on the upper four floors. The lower two floors, which have limited height, would be converted into self-storage facilities.

Some councilors were reluctant to provide a credit enhancement on a property that does not contain workforce or affordable housing units and an initial vote Oct. 20 resulted in a narrow 5-4 vote in favor of the CEA.

An amendment posed by Councilor Norman Belanger on Nov. 10, which outlined that for the property developer to receive a CEA on the Saco Lowell property, it will be conditioned on Tom Watson & Co. LLC acquiring and developing other property on Gooch Street, without benefit of a CEA, was passed unanimously.

Under the terms of the 20- year CEA on the Saco Lowell property, the city would retain 15 percent of the property tax assessed on the new value for the first five years of the agreement, 25 percent in years six through 10; and 50 percent in years 11 to 20. Tom Watson & Co LLC would retain the rest.

The building would be stripped to its shell, with the entire internal structure consisting of new construction, said Director of Planning and Development Mathew Eddy in a memo to the City Council. Equity would be raised through private investors and through historic tax credits, he said.

The Saco Lowell Mill, which manufactured machinery used in the textile industry, was constructed in 1900, and is assessed by the city at $534,700. The reconstruction of the building is proposed to increase the present assessed value of the structure of to $14 million, creating $13.4 million of new captured assessed value.

Councilor Amy Clearwater noted that the CEA “is cutting them a deal on their future tax bill.”

Clearwater also noted she had previously rented from Port Properties Managemen, whom she described as a “good landlord.”

“I’ll be voting against this again tonight, I think we’ve done enough credit enhancements in the downtown,” Council President John McCurry said.

“I think it’s a great project, but I am not comfortable giving a credit enhancement,” said Councilor Doris Ortiz.

Mayor Alan Casavant noted that the Saco Lowell building does not fit the idea of affordable housing because of the height of the lower two floors and pointed out that “nothing has happened” with the building since a fire there in 1963 or 1964.

“I think for many this is not exactly a perfect deal, credit enhancements not always perfect, (and) the idea of giving back tax money for new investment is problematic,” said Casavant. “However, … everyone recognizes the Saco Lowell building is blight, so the question is how do we rehabilitate it? For the city, the answer is you go to the toolbox and the only tool allowed by the state is a credit enhancement, so I look at it as a partnership to rehab an eyesore.”

The vote to approve the CEA was again 5 to 4, with Councilors Michael Ready, Robert Quattrone, Ortis and McCurry casting the dissenting votes.

As well as the tax arrangement outlined in the CEA, conditions of the Joint Development Agreement include that the company would construct the RiverWalk pathway from the railroad underpass, up Gooch Street, to its intersection with Elm Street, and to grant easements for any further RiverWalk improvements and extensions beyond that pathway (at the expense of the city) as well as reserve adjacent land for future transportation connections.

City Manager James Bennett said the matter will be back before the City Council for adoption once the paperwork is complete, in a month or two.

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