Sanford mill with a long history has a new owner
SANFORD — A historic mill building that dates to the 1920s will be repurposed by a custom veneer business whose owner who will use part of the space for himself and eventually lease out the rest.
John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited, set up a partnership with his wife called New Pioneer LLC to buy the 185,590-square-foot building, at 22 Pioneer Ave., for $150,000.
The seller was JMS Cleaning & Recycling, which is owned by Fred Smith. The deal closed March 9. John Anderson of Investcomm Commercial Group brokered the deal on Smith’s behalf; Costin represented himself.
Anderson said the low price is due to the amount of rehab investment needed.
“It’s the smallest sale per-square-foot I’ve seen,” he said.
The building, on 3.53 acres, is essentially a quarter-mile long structure, built as a textile mill, said Anderson. Wasco Skylights, one of the nation’s largest skylight manufacturers, moved there in 1956, according to the company’s website. But in 2011, Wasco moved its headquarters and eastern manufacturing facility to Wells. Anderson said Smith subsequently bought the building, intent on preservation.
“There were people approaching Wasco about stripping it, taking out the beams, but [Smith] saw this as a center for creating jobs in Sanford,” Anderson said. Smith used space there for storage for his hauling and recycling business, but also sought the right buyer — an owner/occupier who would shepherd its redevelopment, Anderson said.
The ‘right buyer’
Enter Costin, a custom woodworker for 30 years.
Costin, who is originally from Los Angeles, learned the trade through apprenticeships, mainly in New York City, working for furniture and cabinetmakers. In 1993, he and his wife, Rachel Phipps, moved to Kennebunk, where Phipps had spent much of her youth, and he started a furniture and architectural woodworking shop. Over the next decade, the business moved into the specialty of custom, high-end veneer.
High-end veneer is far different from low-end, he said.
“People usually have an image of cheap veneers,” he said. “But veneer is also used on the finest and most expensive products, and people don’t necessarily realize it. Designers and builders use it for a number of reasons. It allows us to make a stable and durable piece versus solid wood, which expands and contracts, causing the wood to split. With veneer, we can overcome that.”
Thinly sliced veneer is the depth of several sheets of notepaper, all sawn from one log. Whereas color- and grain-matching can be difficult with solid wood, a single log yielding many veneers allows perfect matching, Costin said.
“Panels around the lobby of a fancy skyscraper might have beautiful wood that’s similar from panel to panel — that was probably done with veneer,” he said. “Because veneer is thinly sliced, it can be spread out for a large square footage.”
In 1993, Costin set up shop in a barn and hired his first employee. The business grew. So in 2001, he leased his current shop in a building owned by the Kennebunk Sewer District. The initial three-year lease turned into 15, with Costin adding employees and specialized machinery — like special saws and a heated hydraulic press — and growing the business in Maine, along the Eastern Seaboard, and as far as California.
A ‘creative person’s dream’
Two years ago, the district told Costin they needed the building. He began looking elsewhere. A broker took him to the former Wasco building. He loved it. It had great daylight thanks to skylights set in small peaked roofs, and was plenty spacious.
But the electric system was antiquated and unsafe, the heating system nil. Costin’s finances didn’t work to invest in rehab. He continued looking for industrial space, with no luck.
“Industrial space that shops like us can afford is getting tough to find in southern Maine,” he said.
He reworked the financing on the mill, and went for it.
“I feel that building is a place we need to be,” he said. “It’s an amazing building. It’s clear, it’s open — an artisan’s, craftsperson’s, creative person’s dream.”
Costin and contractors are working out rehab: an electric system plan that’s enough for himself and another few shops; resurfacing 10,000 square feet of concrete floor for Veneer Services Unlimited; insulation; and curtain walls: Costin expects to spend about $150,000. Heating remains unresolved.
He’ll be moved in by March 31 and hopes to be operational by late April.
He’s had a couple of calls from prospective tenants, and seller Smith is staying on for storage.
“Our hope is, by making good-quality space available, we’ll enable people to continue with their existing businesses or start a new business and be of benefit to the community,” Costin said.