The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Gauvreau Place (Lewiston)

Each year, the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) recognizes some of the state’s most “noteworthy and significant” real estate projects, completed in the previous year. The exemplary projects from across the state, completed in 2022, not only embody MEREDA’s belief in responsible real estate development, but also exemplify best practices in the industry, contributing to Maine’s economic growth by significant investment of resources and job creation statewide.

This year, MEREDA honored projects from Lewiston to Portland to Biddeford, with each receiving special recognition at MEREDA’s 2023 Spring Conference on May 25th.

In a multi-part series exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation. MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

MEREDA’s 2022 Top 7 recipients include:

Lincoln Hotel & Lofts, LHL Holdings and Chinburg Properties (Biddeford)
Gauvreau Place, Community Concepts Inc. and Avesta Housing (Lewiston)
Shipyard Brewing Redevelopment, Bateman Partners, LLC (Portland)
Reconstruction & Reuse of Historic Building 12, Portland Foreside Development Company (Portland)
L.L.Bean Corporate Headquarters, Zachau Construction (Freeport)
Freedom Place at 66 State Street, Developers Collaborative (Portland)
VA Outpatient Clinic, J.B. Brown & Sons and FD Stonewater (Portland)

Please join us this week in celebrating Gauvreau Place.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Gauvreau Place: Gauvreau Place was a joint effort between Community Concepts Inc. (CCI) and Avesta Housing. The building is named for the late Paul Gauvreau, a Lewiston attorney, legislator and board member of CCI. The land on which it was built once housed Paul’s law office as well as the medical offices of his grandfather and father. Paul was a champion of this development, and his involvement during the early planning stages helped achieve key municipal support leading to its construction.

Gauvreau Place consists of 35 mixed-income apartments that are affordable to a wide range of households. The property is close to downtown services and businesses as well as public transportation. Amenities include a community room, on-site laundry and on-site parking beneath the building. The property is solar-ready, with conduit and truss sizing that will facilitate future installation of solar panels.

Energy efficiency features insulation that greatly exceeds the minimum required by building code, water-conserving fixtures, and Energy Star-qualified windows, appliances, and lighting. The building also has all-electric heat. Other sustainable building practices include recycling at least 25 percent of total construction/demolition material and landscaping with indigenous, non-invasive plants in lieu of grass to reduce water consumption.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project? 

Gauvreau Place: Multifamily apartment buildings previously on the site were destroyed during a series of arsons in 2013 that shook neighborhood residents and city leaders. This development was conceived in the midst of extensive community planning around transformative change for the Tree Streets neighborhood — the City of Lewiston and CCI applied for and received a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant in 2019. Although the Gauvreau Place development is not part of that Choice Neighborhoods initiative, it was an opportunity for community partners to come together and start moving forward on goals that had been identified and prioritized by the community as a whole. Gauvreau Place provides much-needed affordable housing for Lewiston, where rents have increased significantly in recent years.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Gauvreau Place: Avesta and CCI started working on this project in early 2018, securing purchase agreements on the land and submitting applications for competitive funding sources. By the end of that year, we had secured awards of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) from MaineHousing and additional funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. We received City approvals in late 2019, at which point we transitioned fully into design development. All funding sources were secured by the end of 2019.

We planned on a spring/summer 2020 construction start. However, impacts from the pandemic and unknowns within the industry slowed that process down. We continued to progress the design throughout 2020, and finally began construction in April 2021. We received our certificate of occupancy in June 2022, and residents have been living in the building ever since.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed.

Gauvreau Place: The project faced some criticism from the community and elected officials because of its scale and concerns about the impact it would have on the neighborhood context. This opposition was limited but very vocal, but it could potentially have scuttled our plans altogether. Through careful management of the municipal process, careful architectural design that helped integrate the building into the neighborhood, and the positive influence of key community leaders that included Paul Gauvreau, we were able to achieve full municipal approvals by the end of 2019.

Another challenge was the management and remediation of contaminated soils and other below-grade factors, including an abandoned underground storage tank and significant urban fill. Redevelopment at this location included off-site disposal of contaminated soils as well as careful management of soils that remained on site through permanent cover systems and other approved environmental management strategies. These efforts have improved the site environmentally and reduced health risks.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

Gauvreau Place: This development was only possible due to the ongoing commitment of local project stakeholders at every step of the process. The City had a vision for a revitalized downtown, which facilitated the purchase of contiguous parcels of the size necessary for a tax credit development and leveraged local funding sources to balance a very tight budget.

CCI had key connections to housing advocates in the neighborhood as well as community leaders who could help overcome public opposition experienced at the beginning of the development. Platz Associates was excited by the vision for a context-appropriate multifamily building in the downtown, and Hebert Construction had extensive local expertise and subcontractors to ensure quality and efficient construction. Creativity and flexibility from Norway Savings Bank meant we secured a very competitive rate on our permanent loan, MaineHousing facilitated the investment of both tax credits and additional state sources, Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments invested significant funds in the environmental cleanup, and Evernorth was committed to working through the unknown risks raised by the pandemic and helping us move ahead to a timely construction loan closing.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

Gauvreau Place: Gauvreau Place had a wide-ranging and complex capital stack to address the unique conditions of the site and the industry impacts of the pandemic. This required significant collaboration and coordination between many funders and community partners, who were all committed to the project and working together to find positive solutions to each new challenge. This collaborative community effort was at the root of the project’s success, especially during such a challenging time as the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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