WATERVILLE — A proposed downtown boardwalk along the Kennebec River took a huge step closer to reality this week after the Waterville Rotary Club gave it a substantial grant that will fill in more than a quarter of the needed funding.

The Waterville Rotary Club gave a $150,000 grant to the Kennebec Riverwalk at Head of Falls to celebrate the local group’s centennial anniversary. The Kennebec Riverwalk project, which the city has been discussing for several years, was selected after five proposals, including the Riverwalk, were presented to the club.

“Our local trail system has been developed over the years and is a key part of our area,” said club president Bruce Harrington in a written statement announcing the grant. “This project is a great addition to this local resource, as well as a fantastic investment in Waterville. I am delighted that our Club can help make that a reality for many generations to come.”

The riverwalk is a collaboration between the city of Waterville and Kennebec Messalonskee Trails.

A 900-foot concrete walkway along the west bank of the Kennebec River at Head of Falls park is proposed along with an entry pavilion, ornamental guardrails, decorative lighting, seating and landscaping. The boardwalk will use the old foundation of the Wyandotte Woolen mill which still lines the river. The mill was torn down in the 1960s. The company moved to Trafton Road.

The walkway would extend north from the Two-Cent Bridge. The city hopes the boardwalk will draw the public to the underused space and make the property more attractive for festivals and events. The city hopes to start work in 2017 and complete construction by spring 2018.

The city points to similar riverwalks in Maine cities like Old Town, Bangor, Rockland and Auburn as inspiration for the project.

“The city is very excited about being able to envision something at a site that has been vacant and neglected for 45 years,” said City Manager Mike Roy on Monday. “It think this is a very important first step to having it be reused as a public space.”

Rotary Club members voted overwhelmingly to dedicate the money to the riverwalk, said Mark Grant, the club’s centennial project co-chairman.

“We wanted to look for a project that would really benefit the community,” Grant said.

For the past few years the club has saved a portion of the money it raised in order to help fund a large project to mark the local club’s hundred-year anniversary in 2018. Rotary International celebrates it’s 100th anniversary. The Rotary Club will make the money available as the project moves forward, Grant said.

“We thought this had the best promise to make a difference going into the future,” he said.

The Rotary Club has a history of supporting redevelopment efforts at Head of Falls. It provided funding for the project to restore the Two-Cent Bridge and helped with the first piece of the Kennebec Messalonskee trail.

“Its been kind of our history over the past 20 years,” Grant said.

The riverwalk project is estimated to cost $400,000, and the Rotary Club contribution is the largest chunk of funding, accounting for more than a quarter of the project cost. Kennebec Messalonskee Trails contributed $15,000 to the project immediately after the Rotary Club announced its grant.

Other money could come from state grants, Colby College and the Waterville Development Corporation.

The city owns the land between the railroad tracks and the river and between the Head of Falls to the rail yard to the north.

The project has permits from the Department of Environmental Protection that might have to be amended depending on the final design. According to the city’s grant application, a final walkway design hasn’t been completed because it is waiting for artistic additions from the Colby College art department and local artists.

In December, the Waterville City Council approved spending $2,500 for a design and cost estimate for the boardwalk.

The city has debated what to do with Head of Falls for years. About 10 years ago, the city borrowed $1.25 million and received a $500,000 grant to install water, sewer, electricity and parking to draw commercial development to the 12-acre lot. The Two-Cent Bridge plaza was built in 2010.

The space hasn’t attracted commercial interests, and the city has stepped away from marketing it in favor of focusing on filling empty downtown buildings and supporting other development efforts, like the Hathaway Creative Center, on Water Street. Three years ago the council considered locating a new police station at the site but selected a Colby Circle location instead.

A commercial approach to the space was favored when City Manager Mike Roy started working in Waterville 10 years ago, but it now seems that the consensus is to keep the site as a recreational space, Roy said. The city is also overdue for a broad community discussion about how people would like to see the space used, he said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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