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Mayor’s Corner: Dreams vs. Reality: Mill No. 5; crime rate; retirement

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

A few issues have come up lately that I find amusing, since they are not based in reality, but are based more so in utopia.

Bates Mill No. 5. Speaking of utopia, recently the Sun Journal has asked its readers (not all Lewiston residents) what they think should be done with Mill No. 5, since the referendum on the casino was defeated statewide—except by Lewiston voters, who passed it by a slim margin.

The readers were encouraged to think big and not consider cost. Since dreaming is cheap and is not based in reality, their readers came up with some outstanding ideas. I found it comical reading all of them. Now they want their readers to pick the top five and send in their five picks by postcard to the paper.

My top and only pick is the one based in reality. It said: “Demolish it and list it (the land) for sale, and with the proceeds help pay for the demolition.”

Here are the realities folks: the city twice put out requests for proposals for Mill No. 5. The reality is that there were no takers! To demolish it, I envision a cost of some $2 million. With the mill gone, it will then become a valuable piece of property. With investment on that property, it will yield property tax revenue.

Had the casino referendum passed, a $100 million investment was envisioned in order to repair and renovate it into a first-class building. The city would also be collecting $2 million a year in property taxes alone, aside from portions of the casino profits, as well as construction jobs in the short term and jobs at the casino in the long term.

Let’s assume that the governor and his buddies were correct in saying that the state couldn’t sustain five casinos and let’s say that the Lewiston casino would default and go under. The renovated building would be there still, and perhaps some of the utopian ideas could then become somewhat affordable to do in that building. The reality is, that opportunity was denied us from Mainers outside of Lewiston.

By the way, at the Lewiston City Council workshop last week, we were informed that the roof of Mill No. 5 sustained some $180,000 in wind damage as a result of Hurricane Irene.

Here is the reality of doing anything with Mill No. 5: an estimated cost of a minimum of $60 million would not be too far off to accomplish anything with that building. The Sun Journal asking its readers to submit ideas without asking for realistic costs for those ideas might make good print. But those ideas aren’t worth the ink used to print them. A city council must deal in reality.

It may not hurt to put out another request for proposal, but I doubt seriously that anything new might come up. We must face reality!

Crime. Some have been critical of crime in the downtown area. Well, let me share with you what City Administrator Ed Barrett had to say about it in his October report:

“A series of relatively high-profile crimes have raised concern and caused some to ask, Just how safe is Lewiston? Fortunately, we have a source that allows us to both track our crime rate and compare it with that of other cities in Maine: the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.”

Barrett wrote: “I recently had the opportunity to look at our crime rate and its trend over time and compare Lewiston with Portland, Bangor, Auburn and South Portland. In 1995, Lewiston’s crime rate was 62.8 per 100,000, lower than Portland (78.5) and South Portland (64.1), but higher than Bangor (50.9) and Auburn (34.9). By 2010, Lewiston’s crime rate had fallen by almost 50% to 32.7, lower than all four other communities, including Auburn’s second-lowest rate of 39.4.”

“While there are limitations to this data (for example, it tracks only crimes reported to police), the trend is clear,” Barrett wrote. “Crime has decreased significantly here over the last 15 years.”

“We recognize, however, that crimes have and will continue to happen; both in Lewiston and elsewhere in Maine, and that a significant proportion is related to drug use,” he wrote. “We also recognize that the recent spate of high-profile crimes raise concerns for both residents and visitors.”

I would simply add to Administrator Barrett’s comments here that arrests were made in these high-profile cases by our police department.

Barrett continued: “In response, the Lewiston Police Department, in conjunction with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, has been targeting individuals involved in drug trafficking in the area, as well as individuals engaged in crime to support their drug habits.”

“The department has focused its resources through directed patrol efforts and ‘surges,’ which deploy large numbers of officers at key times in areas where problems have been identified,” Barrett stated.

“The Department is working closely with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Central Maine Violent Crime Task Force. Our Community Resource Team and our School Resource Officers remain active and work to gather information from the community to allow us to act proactively in an effort to reduce crime before it occurs,” he wrote.

“These efforts will be continuing,” Barrett wrote. “While we should all be concerned over and work together to reduce crime and its effects, we should also keep in mind that as of the last full year of FBI crime statistics, Lewiston’s crime rate is lower than that of Portland, Bangor, South Portland and Auburn.”

By the way, I was one of the principals in the development of the Central Maine Violent Crime Task Force when I was serving as the United States Marshal for the District of Maine.

Lewiston: a Great Small City for Retirement. Now, here is a bit of reality, something we Lewistonians have known all along. The reality is that we have an aged population, and there are a great many that choose to remain here upon their retirement. The AARP, an organization that advocates for seniors, has noted a great many attractions that are important to retirees.

The AARP cites Lewiston’s proximity to the coast, the mountains, other cities in Maine and Boston, as well as its proximity to a major airport. “One major lure for retirees on a budget is affordable housing and, for the artistically inclined, spacious, affordable studio space, much of it in high-ceilinged, 19th-century buildings,” stated the AARP.

They point to development in Bates Mill, office and retail space, Museum L-A, Franco-American Heritage Center and other arts facilities. The many festivals that take place here, as well as our seasonal outdoor activities, such as fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, bike-walking paths, plus our library and, of course, our low crime rate. The list continues…

As Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce said: “Somebody finally got it.” This is no dream; it is reality!

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