Waterville residents cite a community center, more library parking as needs for greater downtown area (2022)

Waterville residents cite a community center, more library parking as needs for greater downtown area (1)

Cindy Jacobs, right, president of the Waterville Public Library board of trustees, and Tammy Rabideau, director of the library, stand Wednesday at the Appleton Street entrance to the library, with The Concourse in the background. The two are hoping that more can be done to free up additional parking for patrons of the library, particularly as city officials begin discussions on another round of downtown revitalization efforts. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Creating a community center downtown that has flexible activity spaces and information about what the city has to offer were ideas residents touted Tuesday at a meeting hosted by the City Council to get input about downtown needs not included in current revitalization efforts.

Cindy Jacobs, president of the Waterville Public Library board of trustees, said it is critical that 12 to 20 parking spaces be created for the library as part of any downtown plans.

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

About 80% of library patrons are mothers with children and the elderly, according to Jacobs. She said the north end of The Concourse where the library is located is busy with cars coming and going and a lot of people walking. Pedestrian safety in that area is not very good, she added.

Over the past six months, library officials have talked to potential funders for library programs who said they’d like to support programs but the library has no parking, Jacobs said.

Council Chair Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, said parking will be addressed. “Parking is squarely within the scope of this study,” she said. “I do appreciate your words and we know that parking is top priority.”

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The Tuesday night meeting came as the yearslong $11.2 million downtown revitalization project approaches its last few months. City and Colby College officials have decided to begin a new phase of envisioning how the area around downtown Waterville might look in the future, from the south end of Front and Main streets to the Hathaway Creative Center and Elm Street.

Emanuel Pariser, Lia Girardin and Diane Weinstein presented a resolution signed by residents and some people from area communities that use Waterville as a hub, asking that city and Colby College officials and the company helping with the process consider their recommendations.

Waterville residents cite a community center, more library parking as needs for greater downtown area (2)

Cindy Jacobs, right, president of the Waterville Public Library board of trustees, and Tammy Rabideau, director of the library, stand Wednesday in The Concourse with several out-of-state vehicles and the library in the background. The two are hoping that more can be done to free up additional parking for patrons of the library, particularly as city officials begin discussions on another round of downtown revitalization efforts. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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

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“We envision a center of town with robust public, commercial, art, recreational and residential structures that welcome people of all social, cultural, racial and economic backgrounds,” Pariser said.

As such, any downtown plans should include the input and evaluation from all members of the greater Waterville community, including those with varying incomes, elderly and retired people, youth, area schools and residents from other communities that come to Waterville, he said.

Pariser and the others recommended that future meetings be held where those people are, including at soup kitchens and food pantries, Senior Spectrum’s Muskie Center, Alfond Youth & Community Center, South End Teen Center, colleges, schools and Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce. Access also should be offered through digital platforms. People should be asked for their input on a possible community center that would provide cooling and warming space, access to relevant services and public restrooms, they said. Also, affordable housing units, a transportation hub and outdoor and sheltered parking with access to downtown amenities also should be considered, they said.

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Elizabeth Leonard, who signed the resolution and is a member of the advocacy group Poor People’s Campaign, said residents have to be brought into the process in a meaningful way and they need to be apprised of public meetings to discuss the issues.

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Waterville Mayor Jay Coelho had an immediate idea for a community center location — the former Skills Inc./Ken-A-Set building on Main Street, next to the fire station, which is at the gateway to downtown Main Street.

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

Waterville residents cite a community center, more library parking as needs for greater downtown area (3)

The former Ken-A-Set thrift store building on Main Street in Waterville, seen in 2016, was suggested Tuesday as a possible location for a community center. Morning Sentinel file

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

“I’d like to see a stage, I’d like to see, perhaps, practice space,” he said, adding that the center could have “maker space” and possibly a tool library.

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

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Tuesday’s meeting, which preceded a council meeting, was the second such session to discuss improvements to the broader downtown area, with the first having been held Aug. 16.

The public is to have input in the process, similar to the approach used to draft the outline of the project that is underway on Main and Front streets.

Not long after Colby President David A. Greene came to Waterville in 2014, heheaded up meetingswith city and downtown business leaders, advocates for the arts and others, to explore what Waterville needed downtown to build on the city’s strengths and help improve the area.

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Through those meetings, officials decided that to help downtown Waterville survive and thrive, more people must live and work downtown, vacant and dilapidated buildings must be rehabilitated or razed, and the arts need to be supported with a larger presence, accessible to everyone.

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

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

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

Waterville residents cite a community center, more library parking as needs for greater downtown area (4)

Jonny Costa cleans the inside of a window at the Lockwood Hotel in downtown Waterville on Aug. 12. The Lockwood is one piece of the city’s downtown revitalization. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Business leaders began following 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 Pig restaurant.

Colby has spent millions helping to revitalize downtown, including raising funds with Waterville Creates to build the Paul J. Schupf Art Center on Main Street, which is to feature art galleries, the Waterville Opera House office, a cafe overlooking Castonguay Square and three cinemas on the upper floor that will replace Railroad Square Cinema.

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

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

Related Headlines

  • Waterville plans to accommodate businesses, building owners during construction
  • Colby College president, mayor share wider vision for downtown Waterville

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