WATERVILLE — A pre-launch party Wednesday to celebrate the opening later this year of a new restaurant on Common Street drew city leaders, business people and downtown advocates who were all abuzz about ongoing efforts to rejuvenate the downtown.

Jobi Culver plans to open Terroir Oven, which will feature wood-fired cuisine, on Dec. 1 at 14 Common St. in the historic Masonic Building, purchased recently by businessman Bill Mitchell.

Mitchell said he plans to return the building, which overlooks Castonguay Square and City Hall, to the pristine condition it was many years ago and develop offices and spaces for artists.

“I think bringing a new restaurant to downtown Waterville is part of what the vision is for downtown,” Mitchell said at the event. “I think it’s the beginning of a wave of new businesses looking at Waterville and locating here over the next several months and years.”

Mitchell will lease the restaurant to Culver, who plans to cook meals in a wood-fired oven made in Skowhegan with organic clay found only in the lower Rhone Valley of France, according to Culver.

“It’s the oldest known clay that’s been found in Greek cooking ovens dating back to 1300 B.C.,” Culver said.

Culver’s goal is to buy everything for the restaurant that fits into the four categories of local, organic, natural and sustainable. The dough is made in Bangor, for instance, and much of his cheese will come from local farms.

“We’re going to build the menu on the four seasons of Maine — fall, winter, spring and summer — and we’re going to have pizzas but also Maine seafood and Maine-raised beef and Maine vegetables,” he said.

“Terroir” is a French word referring to the natural environment, including soil and climate.

“It’s been used for a long time in the wine world as a way to describe flavor you taste in a wine,” Culver said. “Terroir, now in the larger gastronomic world, means all the environmental factors around where something is grown or raised that affect the final product.”

The space was used most recently by Hardy Girls Healthy Women, and it was the site of the former Carousel Restaurant some 25 years ago.

It will be renovated to expose hardwood floors, and a patio for outdoor dining will be built off the back of the building, overlooking a pocket park on Main Street. The restaurant itself will seat about 50 people and the patio another 35, according to Culver. The eatery will have a bar, and diners will be able to view food being cooked in the wood-fired oven.

A Waterville native, Culver, 43, owned the former Bread Box Cafe on Main Street from 2001 to 2009. He said his new restaurant will employ 10 to 12 people and will be open six days a week for lunch and dinner.

“We’re happy, we’re excited to see this and we’ll be patrons,” said Al Hodsdon, owner of A.E. Hodsdon Consulting Engineers, which has an office nearby on Common Street. “The convenience is amazing. We’re so glad that Billy stepped up and bought the buildings.”

In addition to 14-18 Common St., Mitchell purchased 20-24 Common St. next door.

Mitchell bought the buildings while serving on a special committee spearheaded by Colby College President David A. Greene to discuss ways to make downtown more attractive to businesses and people who want to live, work and recreate downtown. The committee included city officials, business owners and organizations including Waterville Main Street, Waterville Creates! and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

Colby has bought three deteriorating buildings downtown with plans to partner with investors and developers to renovate them.

Ideas that emerged from the meetings included developing a boutique downtown, adding retail businesses, creating housing for college students and faculty members and enhancing opportunities for the arts. Also, the group plans to work on improving connections to the Hathaway Creative Center on the Kennebec River, as well as to Head of Falls off Front Street, slowing traffic downtown to make it more accessible to shoppers and diners and making downtown more attractive.

Those who attended Wednesday’s party said Culver’s restaurant plans fit perfectly with the vision for downtown, which includes having creative and niche ventures. They strolled through the four rooms of the future restaurant, sipping wine, tasting hors d’oeuvres and looking at an artist’s renderings of what the restaurant will look like, created by Ricardo Passalacqua, who lives on an upper floor of the Masonic Building.

“Occupancy, destination, business is exciting,” said Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street. “What we’re talking about here is Jobi’s restaurant. His culinary skills are well known in this region, and using local foods in his business plan is something that helps our central Maine economy. This is exciting. Castonguay Square really is the geographic heart of the downtown, so the more that we can have going on here, the more it just feels really good being downtown. Investing in Waterville’s on the rise, and we’re so affordable. Think about the prices on the coast and in Portland.”

City Manager Michael Roy, who served on the downtown committee with Olsen and others, said density of population downtown is important to its success.

“The primary goal of what Colby and the city and organizations are trying to do is get more people in the downtown,” Roy said. “That’s why I’m so encouraged about seeing a new restaurant, because I think the pie is going to get bigger and that it’s going to continue to support new ventures, and it’s one of the first examples of that — of the excitement and the anticipation that things are going to get busier in the downtown.”

Roy said a public forum will be hosted later this month, with a date to be determined, by Colby and the city to discuss the Head of Falls property on the waterfront and potential opportunities there. While the city installed sewer, water and electricity there several years ago and developed a park by the Two Cent Bridge, agreement has not been reached about what could be developed on the site.

“It’s been unused for 45 years, and the city has put quite a bit of money into improvements there,” Roy said. “We want to know what people out there think.”

Like several others at the party, Inland Hospital President John Dalton, another committee member, used the word “exciting” to describe efforts to infuse new energy and vibrancy into downtown.

“What other city in the country has private investors this committed for revitalizing and electrifying the city?” Dalton said.

He cited investments by Colby and Thomas colleges, Mitchell and others as evidence that the renaissance is happening.

“I’ve only been here 10 years, but it seems like a once-in-a-generation thing to revitalize and really uplift downtown Waterville,” he said.

Everything is falling into place at the right time and place, according to John Nale, a Waterville attorney.

“It’s a godsend, really,” Nale said. “I grew up here and I remember when the downtown was very active and all of the storefronts were full. It was a very vibrant downtown, and I believe that Colby’s plans and other private investors’ plans are very much needed, and I believe they’ll be a benefit to the city and a benefit to the college.”

Hodsdon, who attended the event with his project manager, Mark McCluskey, has had his engineering firm on Common Street since 1979 and witnessed the city’s successes and challenges over the years. Hodsdon said what is happening downtown is “the best opportunity we’ve had in decades.”

“David Greene has brought a ray of hope to the city,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.