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03.03.2014 admin
More than $70 million in projects is planned for the city’s mill district; developers say none of it would be happening if the Maine Energy Recovery Co. Palace Diner co-owner Greg Mitchell peers into the dining area, while co-owner Chad Conley walks by in the kitchen.
BIDDEFORD — Back when the textile mills were booming, hungry workers lined up around the clock to eat at the Palace Diner. The diner has been reborn as a hip breakfast and lunch spot featuring specials like challah French toast and cheeseburgers on brioche buns. The things that drew Conley and Mitchell to Biddeford – affordable space, lots of potential and a buzz of excitement about the city’s renaissance – are also attracting others willing to take a gamble on the city’s future.
The success of the diner and the struggle it still faces are emblematic of the efforts in Biddeford to transform from a former mill town once dubbed “Trashtown USA” to a boomtown known for innovative reuse of its historic buildings, vibrant Main Street and full business parks.
In the 35-acre mill district where workers once churned out textiles, there are now loft apartments and small businesses. City leaders, business owners and developers say that kind of economic activity has picked up steam in the three years since the City Council voted to buy and close a trash incinerator that stymied development for close to three decades. Since January, the city has approved a $50 million hotel and a $15 million housing project in mill buildings adjacent to the Maine Energy site.
Despite the buzz around the transformation of Biddeford, some business owners say the city has more work to do to draw people downtown after-hours and address issues such as parking, which officials say will be in short supply as more businesses and apartments open in the former mills. Biddeford began its manufacturing legacy in 1825 when Saco Manufacturing built the largest textile mill in the country on the banks of the Saco River. In the peak years of the early 1900s, the Pepperell mills included 5 million square feet of interior space and had more than 10,000 employees. In the 1960s, as textile manufacturing moved first south and then overseas to save money, activity in the downtown area tapered off.
Even before that last mill closed, developers were eyeing the complex for its potential for reuse. Stevenson said the vacancy rate in the mill district is expected to drop from 51 percent to 31 percent as approved new commercial and residential development absorbs vacant space.
Driving that interest in development are major projects such as the Lincoln Mill hotel, which Stevenson calls a “game-changer” for the downtown and mill district. The City Council’s decision to buy the Maine Energy property for $6.7 million, coupled with infrastructure investments across the city, sends a clear signal to developers that Biddeford is committed to economic growth, Stevenson said. When architect Caleb Johnson looks at Biddeford’s Main Street, he sees a downtown full of potential. Johnson has big plans for the other buildings and says his confidence to invest in them is boosted by projects like developer Tim Harrington’s Lincoln Mill hotel. As those businesses come to fruition, they will join the 14 new businesses that opened in the Main Street area last year.
As new businesses open, they’re adding more life to a Main Street that Johnson says has become increasingly vibrant in the past few years. As more restaurants, shops and attractions open in the area, the city will increasingly be seen as a destination, Stevenson said. Here at MaineToday Media we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion.
They should think about providing for the millions of people who will be retiring in the next 15 years.

Biddeford will never be a successful place until it gets rid of the Section Eight housing, the drugs and the crime. I have several people I know who won’t go downtown at night even though they love the theater there. You can’t grow without spending money to transform the city from crumbling mill town.
Food, rents, house values, cars and most things we buy have increased dramatically in 35 years but you expect your taxes to not?
In the time I’ve been here Biddeford has recovered only in the minds of the politicians and their friends. Harvey Lembo’s a sympathetic figure in gun debate, but shouldn’t he be charged? Her Royal Majesty celebrated with a walk-about in Windsor, gun salutes, family portraits and a cake made by a Great British Bake Off winner. A look at the photos of Justin Levesque’s ride across the Atlantic Ocean with an Eimskip freighter. For the 50th consecutive year, paddlers made their way down the Kenduskeag Stream last weekend in a rite of spring. Here's a look at what you need to know about the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
Maldives, Somalia, finally disasters stuck America and you still You did nothing and others did little. Nearly 90 years after the diner first opened its doors and six years after the last mill closed, there are similarly long lines of customers waiting for their chance to sidle up to the counter. Since reopening last year, the Palace Diner has been featured in national and local media and was selected by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the 50 best new restaurants in America in 2014. But running a small business and finding new customers in an area just starting its upswing aren’t always easy, the chefs say. On Main Street, restaurants and shops are filling vacant spaces where department stores once anchored a bustling downtown. Developer Doug Sanford, credited with leading the way with mill redevelopment in the city over the past decade, has invested $5.6 million since 2012 in the Pepperell Mill Campus, creating 125 new jobs and absorbing 150,000 square feet of vacant space. Even those who point out that Biddeford has a long way to go say they recognize the city has potential. By the late 1800s, the area – dominated by Pepperell Manufacturing Co.’s operation – had grown to include a sprawling brick mill complex. For decades, many of those workers lived in neighborhoods that ringed the downtown, where they shopped and dined. By the early 1980s, the area was depressed enough that city leaders decided to allow a trash incinerator to set up shop a block off Main Street. Sanford, who by that point owned the North Dam Mill, bought the Pepperell Mill Campus to continue his redevelopment of the mills for a mix of housing, retail and light industrial uses.
The city is now waiting for a fiscal impact analysis for potential development on the property, which could include up to seven buildings and a parking garage. In the past few years, he and his business partners purchased an old furniture store, a former bank and a historic courthouse. In the bank, Johnson wants to create a high-end restaurant, basement speakeasy and an event space.

Stevenson said there are now at least 114 businesses in the area supporting nearly 600 jobs and generating more than $404,000 in property taxes each year.
The 31-year-old chef is quickly settling in at his new Main Street restaurant, a charming hole-in-the-wall with wood floors, exposed brick wall and a tin ceiling painted gold. A nearby storefront – formerly home to a Mexican restaurant that closed recently – is being renovated into a sit-down restaurant. And as housing is added in the mills, there will be more demand for restaurants and stores to stay open in the evening.
All are very serious problems there and prevent residents and tourists alike from fully enjoying what could be a beautiful place. Friends in neighboring towns pay $2,500 for the same type property and have similar services. That and stores that take EBT cards and pawn shops seem to be growing businesses.I forgot to add tattoo parlors. Every time we were moving toward recovery the reform group got elected, went into austerity mode and recovery stopped. My property taxes have been one of the major increases in my budget these last 30 years that I lived here. Taxes must be stabilized and our money better spent on schools and services most people use. Pakistan, Iran, charity, Charities, Red Cross, Christian Children's Fund, United Way, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Orthodox Russian Greek, Catholic Charities, Catholicism, Baptist, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Naturalist, Atheist, Agnostic, Agnosticism, Mormon, Mormons, Temple, Church, Cathedral, Bible, Koran, Shinto, Islam, Good Samaritan, Children's Hospital, St.
The business and industrial parks, close to both the interstate and rail lines, are nearly full and the city is developing plans to expand them. City officials say the growth is not limited to the mills: The vacancy rate on Main Street has dropped 37 percent and the business and industrial parks are now 98 percent full. The furniture store has already been renovated and houses Elements, a popular combination bookstore, coffee shop and bar, on its first floor.
At the courthouse, which is just off Main Street, he envisions a larger event space with dramatic 20-foot ceilings.
Three restaurants recently closed, but two of those locations are already open or being renovated as new eating holes.
When he started looking for a spot to open his first restaurant with fiancee Megan McVey, he checked out cities such as Portland. Across the street, the former Renys building, which includes a third-floor theater, is being renovated by an arts nonprofit.
Stevenson said that demand, along with the city’s efforts to add better lighting and signs, will continue to help boost businesses on Main Street and attract new investment in Biddeford. I don’t know where taxes are as low as you say they are in surrounding cities with similar services. This initiative is based on the reality that "One Can Make a Difference." That means you and me!

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