AUGUSTA — A major makeover to Market Square is set now that the city has secured a $200,000 grant, and officials and merchants hope the project will help bring more people into the heart of downtown to meet and mingle.

Work probably will start this summer, after the Fourth of July, according to Leif Dahlin, city services director.

“It’s a game-changer for the downtown, with all the other good stuff going on,” Dahlin said. “It’s four years of hard work and collaboration coming to a head wonderfully, to benefit the downtown, residents, merchants and the state capital.”

Plans include moving the Kennebec Explorer bus stop and public bathrooms now at Market Square elsewhere downtown, moving the historic Baker fountain from the middle of the intersection of Winthrop and Water Streets into the park space at Market Square, creating a performing arts space, and refashioning Market Square into a larger, more open place where people can gather for events.

Advocates of the project say the idea is to make the park and downtown events more connected to the rest of the city’s historic downtown area.

“The usage right now is a bus depot that doesn’t really relate to the downtown,” said Larry Fleury, president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, a group that advocated for the changes and worked with the city to put the grant proposal together. “This is going to be a nice meeting place for people. We’ll have different functions there — music, we really want to program that park. Right now, everything happens back by the river. If you’re downtown, you really don’t even know it’s going on.

“We really want to have during-the-day connections, where people can gather round and do things together. A place for the arts. We want to create community downtown.”

The city was notified this week it will receive a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The money, Dahlin said, will be combined with $120,000 in funding that Augusta city councilors already approved to match the grant.

Dahlin said Friday that the project details aren’t complete. Renovation work will be delayed until after the city’s Fourth of July festivities, some of which take place downtown.

Dahlin said the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program bus stop and bathrooms probably will be moved to the opposite side of Water Street, to a spot in the southern end of the Maine State Housing Authority parking lot near the head of the Kennebec River Rail Trail.

The Winthrop and Water streets intersection will be reconfigured to take up less space, providing more room for the park area in Market Square.

The Baker fountain, which is in the middle of the intersection, will be moved into the park. Fleury said the granite fountain will be lined up with the also-granite Olde Federal Building across the street.

The fountain is dedicated to Joseph and Orville Dewey Baker, a prominent Augusta father and son. The family lived in a home nearby, and Orville Baker once was Maine’s attorney general. Fleury said historic preservation officials said it was OK to move the fountain into the park, which also will be increased in size by replacing the paved bus depot spot with a grassy open area.

The park changes were designed by local resident Jesse Patkus, a University of Maine at Augusta architecture student and member of the Augusta Downtown Alliance.

Jennifer Curtis, chairwoman of an Augusta Downtown Alliance committee, said the group researched grants and brought the community development block grant opportunity to the attention of city officials.

Frank Coco, co-owner with his brother Anthony of Visage Salon and Day Spa, which is in the Water Street block south of Market Square, said he thinks the proposed changes are a great idea.

“I’m excited for any kind of change down there,” Coco said. “I’d love to see more foot traffic, and that kind of goes hand-in-hand with making changes on that corner. The bus stop — you can put that anywhere. I think that corner can be used for better things.”

Coco said he saw the city’s downtown area largely fade when the Marketplace at Augusta came in — near Interstate 95, off Civic Center Drive — and now he sees the downtown slowly coming back to life.

That revitalization is especially evident with the work that the Parkhurst family has put into renovating multiple downtown buildings, he said. Mayor William Stokes said the redesign will create a much more open area and help spur the ongoing revitalization of downtown.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com