WATERVILLE — Downtown revitalization efforts got a massive boost Tuesday night as the Harold Alfond Foundation and Colby College officials announced they will infuse $20 million into projects to launch what will eventually become “tens of millions of dollars more” in downtown investments.

The Alfond Foundation is pledging a $10 million grant toward a special fund for revitalization, matching Colby’s $10 million investment.

The announcement came Tuesday night at Harvest on the Square, a celebration of community and the arts, held downtown in Castonguay Square, next to City Hall.

Gregory Powell, chairman of the Alfond Foundation; Colby President David Greene; and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell spoke to a crowd of about 300 people.

Powell spoke of Waterville philanthropists Harold and Bibby Alfond, for whom the foundation is named, and their love and support of the city and its institutions, including the Alfond Youth Center, Educare Central Maine, Colby and Thomas colleges, Kennebec Valley Community College, MaineGeneral Medical Center, Waterville Creates! and the Maine Children’s Home. The Alfonds have infused millions of dollars into the community, including $9 million in the arts alone.

“Over the past year, like so many of you, the foundation has been awed by the outstanding leadership of David Greene and the prominent role Colby College is playing in the revitalization of Main Street, to nurture the conscience and soul of this community,” Powell said. “When we heard President Greene declare it was Colby’s time to help Waterville, as Waterville has always helped Colby, we wanted to do our part.”


Powell’s announcement drew long applause and cheers from the crowd.

Greene, stepping up to the podium under a tent on Common Street to great applause, expressed his gratitude to Powell and the Alfond Foundation, saying both families’ names run deep in Waterville and they are among families that have made a difference in the city. He commended the Alfond Foundation, including the Alfonds’ sons Peter and Bill, who attended Tuesday night.

“There are no better friends to Waterville, no better friends to Colby, no better friends to central Maine and no better friends to Maine in general than the Alfond family,” Greene said. “They’ve been extraordinary in their generosity and their commitment.”

Before speaking Tuesday night, Greene described the grant from the Alfond Foundation as a remarkable gift, saying the community was “blessed to have a family and a family foundation so committed to central Maine and Waterville, in particular.”

He said the $20 million Alfond Foundation gift and Colby funds represent just the beginning of significant investments downtown that will cost “tens of millions of dollars more than that.”

“We’re committed to those funds as well, but this is a heck of a start,” he said.

Mitchell, a Waterville native and former U.S. Senate majority leader who negotiated Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998, received standing ovations, both before and after he spoke.

“I want to echo the words of previous speakers and express what I know is the gratitude we all feel toward Greg personally and as representative of the Alfond Foundation, Billy and Peter,” Mitchell said.

He said no family in Maine’s long history has made more philanthropic contributions to the common good than the Alfond family.

“Harold and Bibby and their entire family have been wonderful to this community and are spark plugs for the efforts that are underway,” Mitchell said.

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell speaks with people Tuesday during the Harvest on the Square on Common Street in downtown Waterville.

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell speaks with people Tuesday during the Harvest on the Square on Common Street in downtown Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

He said that as children, the Mitchells were taught to believed that one person can make a difference.

“And no one demonstrates that better than David Greene,” he said, while commending the downtown efforts.

“This is a tremendous example for people all across this country what a determined community with a strong and effective leadership can do,” he said. “I’ve never been more proud of Waterville than I am tonight.”

Mayor Nick Isgro recognized the Alfonds, the Mitchells and others in attendance Tuesday who supported the city for many years and continue to do so.

“Everyone’s here tonight,” he said. “That’s our past, and we have come together to build our future.”

Shannon Haines, new president and chief executive officer of Waterville Creates!, which sponsored the event along with Colby and Waterville Main Street, was emcee of the event. She thanked all those who made it possible and those involved in downtown revitalization.

“Having worked in community development over 10 years in the city of Waterville, I’ve never been more excited about the future of our city than I am tonight,” she said.

REVITALIZATION BOOST

Accompanying Powell on Tuesday night besides Bill and Peter Alfond, were Bill’s wife, Joan; David Flanagan and his wife, Kay; and foundation executive staff members Travis Cummings and Jarod Deanis.

Powell recalled Harold Alfond’s love of sports, arts and teamwork and said Waterville’s future is all about teamwork and leadership on display Tuesday night in the form of officials from Waterville Creates!, Waterville Opera House, the Maine Film Center, Waterville Main Street and Waterville Public Library.

“Tonight as we celebrate another year of growth and accomplishment for Waterville, the foundation could not feel more confident in this town,” Powell said.

He said that all across the U.S., small towns and cities are struggling.

“In their struggle, as they face disruptive change brought on by technology and economic competition spanning the globe, they are finding ways to rebuild,” Powell said. “From history, we know that those who succeed are those with a legacy of community, of teamwork. We know towns are the people who inhabit them. They have a soul, a conscience and a drive to be better as they face the challenges of change, even in the worst of times.”

Last year, Greene hosted meetings with city officials, downtown organizations, businesspeople, arts advocates and others to discuss ways to help revitalize downtown, expand art offerings, draw businesses, bring more people to live and work downtown and generally to help boost economic development.

Phil Bofia, left, and Erica Beaster, left center, speak with Dale Foster as historical images flash on a large flat screen in the background Tuesday during Harvest on the Square on Common Street in downtown Waterville. Colby College and the Harold Alfond Foundation matched donations for a total of $20 million for downtown investments.

Phil Bofia, left, and Erica Beaster, left center, speak with Dale Foster as historical images flash on a large flat screen in the background Tuesday during Harvest on the Square on Common Street in downtown Waterville. Colby College and the Harold Alfond Foundation matched donations for a total of $20 million for downtown investments. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Colby bought five vacant, deteriorating buildings downtown with plans to partner with investors to redevelop them; and shortly after that, Bill Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance Agency downtown and nephew to George Mitchell, followed suit by buying two historic buildings on Common Street. He has been redeveloping them into office space and several weeks ago opened The Proper Pig restaurant in one of those buildings with the owners of The Last Unicorn, Fred and Amy Ouellette.

Colby alumnus Justin DePre and his brother Tom, and their father, also Tom, bought two buildings on Main Street and have been renovating them as well.

Meanwhile, Colby is buying the northeast corner of The Concourse from the city for $300,000 and plans to build a residential complex for 200 students and faculty and staff members who will be part of a special Colby curriculum involving community service, and retail is planned for the ground floor of the complex, expected to open in 2018. The college also bought the former Hains building at 173 Main St. and plans to redevelop the building into offices, including those for Collaborative Consulting, a technology firm temporarily housed in The Hathaway Creative Center that expects to have 200 people working downtown in five years. The founder, president and chief executive officer of Collaborative, William C. Robichaud Sr., and its senior vice president and chief strategy officer, John Williams, were present Tuesday night. Greene said Tuesday that he expects that building will be renovated and open next summer.

Colby also plans to partner with an investor to build and open in 2018 a high-end boutique hotel with 42 rooms and a restaurant on the site of the former Levine’s clothing store, which the college also purchased.

The former Waterville Hardware store across the street from Levine’s, also purchased by Colby, will be torn down, though officials have not announced a date for that work or what will be planned for the site. Greene said Tuesday it probably will be a mixed use of residential, office and retail. Last month, the former Elks building on Appleton Street, another Colby purchase, was razed to make way for parking.

PAST AND PRESENT

Fifty years ago, Powell said, he and other people who grew up in Waterville saw the conscience and soul “right here in this square and up and down Main Street.”

On a Saturday morning in October 50 years ago, Levine’s was “bustling with customers and sales clerks, many of whom were Colby and Waterville High students at their first jobs,” Powell said.

Powell described the back of the store, where many young men were fitted for their first suit and “for many, the price would be forgiven.” The room featured a giant aerial photo of the Colby campus, he said.

“Colby and Waterville were one, their conscience and soul conjoined in the hustle and bustle of this town’s Main Street,” Powell said. “Tonight, that conscience and soul is with us, nurtured and renewed, as Waterville changes to meet the challenges of change.”

Earlier Tuesday, Powell said foundation officials felt that, given Colby’s investment and support in Waterville, the foundation should do its part and invest $10 million.

“This does not replace the other grant-making that we have made or intend to make in the future for the city, region and state,” he said.

David Greene, president of Colby College, smiles Tuesday as he puts a $20 million check into his suit pocket before addressing those gathered at the Harvest on the Square on Common Street in downtown Waterville.

David Greene, president of Colby College, smiles Tuesday as he puts a $20 million check into his suit pocket before addressing those gathered at the Harvest on the Square on Common Street in downtown Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Greene said before Tuesday night’s event that Colby and Alfond Foundation officials had been discussing downtown revitalization for many months.

“We’ve been in conversation with them from the very beginning,” Greene said. “It’s one of the things that kept me very optimistic that we’d be able to deliver on the promise of a great downtown.”

He said that he expects to see a great emphasis placed on arts in the city, which would involve the Waterville Creates! group.

In his remarks to the crowd Tuesday, Greene spoke of Powell’s growing up in Waterville, where his father, Kershaw “Kirk” Powell, was a dentist and Colby alumnus who headed up civic organizations in the city. To have Greg Powell delivering the news of such a generous gift Tuesday seemed so fitting, interesting and telling in so many ways, Greene said.

Like the Powells, the Alfonds, Levines, Mitchells and others made major contributions to Waterville and its downtown, according to Greene.

He went on to talk about those who have invested in the city more recently, including Hathaway Creative Center developer and Colby alumnus Paul Boghossian, Mark McLeod, a Massachusetts businessman who bought and plans to renovate the former Ken-A-Set building, Matt Hancock, Bill Mitchell, the Geller family, the DePre family and others.

“I think it’s a wonderful combination of deep roots in this area and connections that are here,” Greene said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17