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Lewiston, Maine's Tallest Building to Convert from Office to Residential Space

Wed February 01, 2023 - Northeast Edition #4
Mainebiz


Manufacturers National Bank is the tallest building in the city, and dates to 1915. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Manufacturers National Bank is the tallest building in the city, and dates to 1915. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

After changing ownership three times in three years, the latest owner of the narrow Professional Building at 145 Lisbon St. in Lewiston, Maine, plans to convert the structure from office to residential use.

It is the tallest building in the city, and dates to 1915.

Jason Hutchins bought the 20,000-sq.-ft. structure from JL Dale LLC for $600,000. The deal was facilitated by Frank Carr of Maine Realty Advisors in Portland.

"We'll do a renovation, using historic tax credits, to keep the feel but install modern features and finishes," Hutchins said.

The Professional Building previously sold in December 2019 for $505,000, and again in December 2020 for $565,000, Mainebiz reported Jan. 30.

The idea behind the 2019 sale was to perform exterior and interior renovations as space turned over.

The next buyer, said Carr, divided the spaces into smaller offices to meet market demand during the pandemic, a time when people were looking for small, locked spaces to do their office work outside of their homes and where the costs of operations, such as internet and printing, could be shared.

By 2021, the building was fully occupied, Carr told Mainebiz, but its elevator broke down in January 2022, causing an exodus of tenants.

That, along with uncertainty in today's office market, the building's narrow structure — 25-ft.-wide by 100-ft.-long – and the need for large capital expenditures, drove the latest sale, he said.

"To really succeed in that building as an office product, you need to divide the space into tiny offices in order to work for a small, targeted segment of today's office market," Carr explained. "Larger square foot tenants will not rent the Professional Building's constrained footprint geometry. However, the office market rental rate, for small, 150-sq.-ft. offices that fit the geometry, doesn't support large capital items like a new elevator [or a new roof, both of which are] needed."

A timeline for when work will begin to renovate the Professional Building has not been nailed down, Hutchins told Mainebiz.

"We're waiting for construction costs to come down," he said. "We were hoping to start at this time, but we're pushing it to springtime."

Old Building Deemed ‘Architecturally Significant'

Designed by U.S. Bank architects Hutchins & French of Boston, the building, at the corner of Lisbon and Ash streets, was originally Manufacturer's National Bank before divided into about 70 individual office suites in the 1960s.

According to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission's historic resources inventory, the 108-year-old Professional Building "is architecturally significant as the last major large commercial structure constructed in Lewiston prior to World War I. As such, this former bank symbolizes the high-water mark of the city's fortunes as an industrial center."

The interior design features neo-classical ornamentation, terrazzo floors, marble, wood moldings and five large, two-story ornate arched windows fitted with Chicago windows for functional airflow. These types of windows have a single fixed piece of glass with two narrow double-hung windows on each side, according to architecture.org.

Hutchins' first project several years ago was the redevelopment of another early 20th century building, owned by his father, at 5 Washington St. in Biddeford. There, office spaces were converted into high-end efficiency apartment units in response to the city's residential market demand.

Renovation Could Create Three Apartments Per Floor

With the Professional Building, Hutchins is going in a similar direction.

But, the narrow width of the building posed some interesting design challenges, he said to Mainebiz.

The biggest challenge centered on egress. The existing staircase and hallway run along one side of the structure. The problem was to figure out where to fit a second interior staircase. The architect is still working on the final layout, but one idea is to build a second staircase at the back of the building, leaving the existing staircase and hallway mostly intact. That would result in three apartment units per floor of around 600 to 700 sq. ft. each.

Additional work will include installing new windows, roofing, fixtures and mechanical systems, and repointing the brick exterior.

Hutchins assured that the Professional Building's historical details will be preserved. The apartment style is still evolving, he said, but the vision features the existing large windows and hardwood floors, with big, bright spaces.

Mainebiz noted that the building's renovations are expected to cost around $5 million, with financing to come from a construction loan and tax credits.

The renter market for the Professional Building is likely to include college students, hospital staff, and employees of new businesses that are cropping up in downtown Lewiston, Hutchins said.

"We don't feel the Lewiston market is quite where we'd hope it to be to invest this money," he explained. "But we see other great buildings that people have done projects on, and others that are in the works. Hopefully, this brings people to the area and helps the town of Lewiston grow."




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