WATERVILLE — Almost 15 years ago, the city commissioned a master plan to redevelop a swath of vacant land on the Kennebec River near downtown that has been empty since the late 1960s.

The plan called for a mix of commercial and recreational use, with restaurants, offices and retail stores sharing space with parks and trails, a riverfront promenade, even an amphitheater. Some $2 million worth of infrastructure was added to the site in the hopes it would lure developers.

But the master plan was never fulfilled, and today Head of Falls remains an undeveloped and underused space.

With the likely construction of a boardwalk-style riverfront park, there is renewed interest in ironing out a vision for the 14-acre parcel; and for the first time since plans were discussed, city residents will get a chance to weigh in.

On Monday night, the city is scheduled to hold a public planning session to begin gathering residents’ input on how the city should develop Head of Falls. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers.

It is the first time that the city has had a comprehensive public discussion about the property since the master plan was written in 2001, City Manager Mike Roy said.

“The Waterville City Council, the development corp., have wrestled with the question of what we do with Head of Falls,” Roy said.

“This is the first time we have reached out to the public to say, ‘What do you think? Why do you go there? Why don’t you go there? If you don’t go there, what would you like to see?'” he said.

The meeting will include a brief history of the parcel, current and past development plans and its current condition and infrastructure assets.

Discussion prompts for residents include what improvements would entice people to use the space and how it could be better connected to Main Street and downtown revitalization plans.

At points over the last decade, the park has been envisioned as commercial real estate, a recreational area and even the site of the city’s Police Department.

Residents’ interest in Head of Falls ranges from open, passive recreation space or sports fields to development for new buildings and office space, Roy said.

The land once housed the Waterville Iron Works and the Wyandotte Worsted Mill, as well as homes for millworkers. That was all torn down in the late 1960s, and the foundations buried, as part of an urban renewal plan. For decades the land was used as the city’s snow dump, which left the area dirty and covered with debris. It is described in a city history of the site as “a no-man’s land — a place with enormous potential but an uncertain future.”

When it planned about 10 years ago to develop Head of Falls as a commercial space, the city invested $2 million to install underground water, sewer and electric utilities and build a parking lot to attract business.

The city did a market analysis in 2008 and 2009, and in 2010 it signed an agreement with the Waterville Development Corp. to market the property. A plaza at the entrance to the historic Two-Cent Bridge at the south end of the site, and renovations to the bridge itself, were completed in 2011. Requests for letters of intent seeking proposals that “coincide with and support the city’s stated goal” for Head of Falls also went out that year, as well as emails to 21 selected firms the city believed might have an interest.

The city received no responses.

The city stepped away from marketing Head of Falls in 2013 in favor of focusing on downtown redevelopment.

The Waterville Rotary Club, in July, announced a $150,000 grant award to help build a 900-foot boardwalk park along the river.

Additional financing for the $400,000 project will come from Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, Colby College and the Waterville Development Corp.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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