GARDINER — This year the city’s downtown drew hundreds of cyclists as one of BikeMaine’s overnight stops, prompted two Maine businesses to open new locations through a business incentive program and is set to be the home of a grocery co-op early next year.

Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said his organization, as well as the city as a whole, deserves recognition for recent successes. But Wright, head of the nonprofit organization, has become the face of the downtown revitalization efforts.

Wright, speaking from Gardiner Main Street’s Water Street office in late December, said the positive developments downtown are the result of the city focusing its efforts on the community.

“Unlike a lot of organizations and entities in the economic development realm, Gardiner Main Street and Gardiner in general have taken the approach to economic development of building community first,” he said, “and I think good community development is economic development.”

The Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce plans to honor Gardiner Main Street with a Community Service Award at the chamber’s annual awards ceremony Jan. 23.

Gardiner Main Street is part of National Main Street Center, a national program of more than 2,000 communities that tries to revitalize older business districts in small cities and towns in the context of historic preservation. Nine other Maine cities and towns have accredited Main Street programs.


A large part of the city’s efforts to strengthen the community was a two-year planning project that concluded in early 2014, Heart & Soul. The project, which culminated with a new comprehensive plan, was funded by a $100,000 grant from the Vermont-based Orton Family Foundation, which helps communities plan for the future by providing money, and technical and advisory resources.

The project also led to additional funding from the Vermont nonprofit organization for community projects including a Waterfront Park concert series hosted by Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center last summer and a yet-to-be-developed skate park.

Wright said attitudes about downtown Gardiner seem to be changing recently. Part of it is momentum from Johnson Hall, thanks to a new executive director and increased attention to rebuilding the historic opera house’s third-floor theater.

Some businesses have come and gone, but recently there has been more commercial interest in downtown buildings, Wright said.

“To me there is an attitude shift. I have said for a long time that if Gardiner has any obstacles, it’s the belief in itself, and I believe that is changing,” he said. “And it’s due to this community development work we’re doing. Success breeds success.”

Peter Thompson, the outgoing president of the Augusta-based chamber of commerce, said Gardiner Main Street was selected for one of its two community service awards because of Wright’s leadership, the community events it hosts and the business attraction program it launched this year with the city, the Gardiner Board of Trade and the Bank of Maine.


“They just stand out as an organization that’s just been doing some neat things for their town to rebuild their downtown,” Thompson said.

The Gardiner Growth Initiative, funded with a $125,00 pledge from the Bank of Maine and $50,000 from the board of trade, offers forgivable loans for infrastructure costs, micro-grants for working capital and free rent for long-term leases in some buildings.

So far the program committee has approved two businesses for funding packages. Frosty’s Donuts, first started in Brunswick, opened its fourth location in June in Gardiner’s downtown; and Emery’s Meat and Produce has opened a new location in Gardiner next to Dunkin’ Donuts on Bridge Street.

Looking to next year, Wright said he expects Gardiner Main Street to continue with the track it’s on and will focus on its existing annual events, such as Swine and Stein.

“We’re just going to continue doing what we’re doing, because it seems to be resonating with people,” he said.

The organization is holding its annual planning meeting for volunteers Thursday at its Water Street office. The group will be reviewing and assessing last year’s work plan and brainstorming for ideas about what to focus on next year, Wright said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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