Waterville residents cite a community center, more library parking as needs for downtown

WATERVILLE — Creating a downtown community center with flexible activity spaces and information about what the city has to offer were ideas presented by residents Tuesday at a council-sponsored meeting municipal for input on downtown needs not included in current revitalization efforts.

Cindy Jacobs, chair of the Waterville Public Library Board, said it was essential that 12 to 20 parking spaces be created for the library as part of any downtown plan.

“The library has needed designated parking spaces on the same side of the street for decades,” she said.

According to Jacobs, 80% of library users are seniors and mothers with children. She said the north end of the hall where the library is is very busy with cars coming and going and lots of people walking. Pedestrian safety in this area is not very good, she added.

Over the past six months, library officials have spoken to potential funders for library programs who have said they’d like to fund programs, but the library doesn’t have parking, Jacobs said. .

Council Chair Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, said parking will be part of the vision project.

“Parking is squarely within the scope of this study,” she said. “I appreciate your words and we know that parking is the top priority. This will definitely be addressed.

Emanuel Pariser, Lia Girardin and Diane Weinstein presented a resolution signed by many residents and some people from area communities who use Waterville as a hub, asking that city and Colby College officials and the company help with the process. reviewers consider their recommendations for the process and outcomes of the visioning study.

Pariser read aloud the resolution, which says Waterville should be a community that meets the needs of everyone, from those with the least financial means to those with the greatest financial capacity.

“We envision a downtown with strong public, commercial, artistic, recreational and residential structures that welcome people from all social, cultural, racial and economic backgrounds,” Pariser said.

As such, any downtown plan should include input and assessment from all members of the greater Waterville community, including those with variable incomes, seniors and retirees, youth, schools in the area and residents of area communities who come to Waterville, he said.

Pariser and the others recommended that vision meetings be held where these people are, including soup kitchens and pantries, the Senior Spectrum’s Muskie Center, the Alfond Youth & Community Center, the South End Teen Center , colleges, schools, and the Central Maine Chamber of Commerce. Access should also be offered through digital platforms. People should be asked to give their opinion on a possible community center that would provide cooling and warming space, access to relevant services and public restrooms, they said. Additionally, affordable housing, a transportation hub, and outdoor, sheltered parking with access to downtown amenities should also factor into the plans, they said.

Resident Elizabeth Leonard, who signed the resolution and is a member of the Poor People’s Campaign, said people needed to be brought into the process in a meaningful way and told about public meetings to discuss the issues.

Mayor Jay Coelho had an immediate idea for the location of a community center – the vacant former Skills Inc. building on Main Street, next to the fire station.

“Let’s just put it in the Ken-A-Set building – I mean, it’s sitting there, empty,” he said.

Councilman Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, recommended that a community center have flexible space that can be used for a variety of activities now and in the future.

“I would like to see a stage, I would like to see, maybe, a practice space,” he said, adding that the center could have a “creative space” and possibly a tool library.

Resident Nancy Sanford suggested that a center be a welcome place for visitors to the city that has information about what Waterville has to offer. It could also have a space dedicated to the city’s history, she said, and be a gathering place for people.

Tuesday’s meeting, which preceded a board meeting, was the second such viewing session, with the first taking place on August 16.

As the $11.2 million downtown revitalization project nears its final months, the city and Colby have decided to begin a new phase of visioning the future of the area around downtown Waterville, from the south end of Front and Main streets to the Hathaway Creative Center and Elm Street.

The public should have a say in the process, similar to the approach used to draft the outline for the current project on Main and Front streets.

Shortly after Colby President David A. Greene arrived in Waterville in 2014, he hosted meetings with city and downtown business leaders, arts advocates and others , to explore what Waterville needed downtown to build on the city’s strengths and help improve the area. .

Through these meetings, it was decided that to help downtown Waterville survive and thrive, more people should live and work downtown, vacant and dilapidated buildings should be rehabilitated or razed, and the arts should be supported with a greater presence, accessible to all.

Colby began buying and rehabilitating buildings, such as 173 Main Street, that had been vacant for years. He drew Portland Pie Co. to the ground floor, and a florist’s shop, The Robin’s Nest, is now on this level. Colby and other offices are on the upper floors.

Colby also built the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons across the street, which houses approximately 200 students and staff on the upper floors and the Camden National Bank and community meeting space on the first level.

Additionally, the college built the Lockwood Hotel at the south end of Main Street, which has a restaurant and bar, Front & Main, at street level. Colby has also repurposed buildings across the street into Green Block + Studios.

Business leaders have started to follow suit, with Bill Mitchell, owner of the GHM Insurance Agency and other properties, buying two historic buildings on Common Street and rehabilitating them into offices and other uses, including The Proper restaurant. Pig.

Colby has spent millions to help revitalize downtown, including raising money with Waterville Creates to build the Paul J. Schupf Art Center on Main Street, which will include art galleries, the office of the ‘Opéra de Waterville, a café overlooking Place Castonguay and three cinemas on the upper floor which will replace Railroad Square Cinema.

As part of a project between the city, Colby and the Maine Department of Transportation, the downtown one-way traffic pattern is being replaced with two-way traffic on Main and Front streets to slow traffic and to make the city center more convenient and safer for pedestrians, diners and shoppers.

The $11.2 million project includes a $7.3 million BUILD grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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Jill E. Washington