HALLOWELL — The effort by community members to use the creativity of the city’s residents to reduce the impact that tearing up Water Street will have on the downtown began Thursday night with a brainstorming session on how art fits in people’s lives.

A city committee that hosted the public meeting at City Hall is trying to find ways to alleviate some of the fears surrounding the planned project to rebuild the downtown street, slated for 2018 at the earliest, and to get people to look forward to it. One idea that has been put forward is holding a block party and painting a mural on the road before it’s torn up.

Deborah Fahy, chairwoman of the Cultural Committee and the head of the downtown’s Harlow Gallery, said the goal is to make people feel more positive about the rebuild project and to look for ideas to help bring people downtown during the construction, which could last up to six months.

“In the end, it’s going to be great for the downtown, but it’s scary for a lot of people,” Fahy said.

Ruth Lachance, owner of Boynton’s Market, is one of the downtown building owners concerned about the prospect of portions of Water Street being under construction for half a year. She said she was hoping Thursday night’s meeting would address more specific aspects of the project, such as the phases of construction.

Lachance said she’s open to ideas, but she “doesn’t know how art’s going to create a better construction season for us.”

“I’m not seeing it,” she said.

The city finalized an agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation last year to take on the project, which will cost more than $3 million in state and federal funding and last up to six months.

Besides rebuilding the downtown stretch of Water Street, which is steeply crowned and slopes toward the sidewalk on the Kennebec River side, the project would give the city the opportunity to repair antiquated utility lines below the road, build new sidewalks, extend the sidewalk to the boat landing and add streetlights.

Lachance said she understands the needs of the infrastructure improvements, but she’s still concerned about the effect on businesses such as hers.

“It’s scary,” she said. “My husband and I are very scared.”

The project’s six-month time frame has long been a concern for downtown business owners, who have said reducing traffic for that long could close less-established businesses.

However, Fahy said planning well in advance of the project will give the community a chance to prepare for the impact and could allow the community to secure grants for some art-based project that would actually make people look forward to the reconstruction. The city has also established two subcommittees to assist the committee overseeing the project by finding parking for businesses during the rebuild and by marketing the downtown before and during construction.

Some ideas from the roughly 25 people at the public meeting Thursday included creating artwork in front of businesses to show they’re still open during the construction and setting up banners at either end of the downtown to encourage people to visit the stores and restaurants. The majority of the two-hour meeting focused on general brainstorming about the city and art.

Artist Marty Pottenger, director of Art at Work, an initiative that integrates art and local government, facilitated the meeting. Pottenger’s initiative in the city of Portland has worked to improve relations between the city’s Police Department and the immigrant and refugee population, including holding public performances of skits by police and young people that presented differing views of police.

Fahy said she hopes to be able to secure some grant funding for the project and bring Pottenger, who volunteered her time to facilitate the meeting Thursday, back to develop the project going forward.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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