WATERVILLE — Residents told an architecture and engineering expert Monday night they want to see a mix of commercial, residential and recreational uses on the waterfront at Head of Falls, with a heavy emphasis on recreation.

They suggested to Neil Kittredge, a partner in Beyer Blinder Belle, of New York City, that building a soccer field, basketball court or water slide would draw youths and their parents to the city from the greater Waterville area and beyond. A maze of hedges, as well as flowers and shrubs that would provide color all year-round also would spice up the waterfront, they said.

“It’s a terrific area and I’d like to see a mixture of open space and commercial,” said Dana Sennett, former mayor and City Council chairman. “I think a boardwalk would create a safety factor.”

Sennett also noted the need for public restrooms in the area.

“I would strongly encourage that as part of the plan,” he said.

W. Elery Keene, of Winslow, recommended the maze of hedges and perhaps a small zoo that would attract children; others suggested a train station with passenger rail service connecting to Brunswick and Boston.

Norton Webber, who many years ago owned You Know Whose Pub, introduced the idea of a water slide, saying it would be proactive for the area.

“I’ve had ideas about this for years,” Webber said. “I’ve always envisioned I-95 as being the outside rim of a bicycle wheel and the Head of Falls as being the hub.”

A water slide would draw a lot of people and the water could be frozen in winter for a skating rink, he said.

“I’d like to see something more active because that would bring people,” he said. “People would travel if it’s well done.”

Webber was one of about 60 former and current city officials, business owners, economic development officials and members of Main Street organizations and residents who packed the City Council chambers Monday to explore ideas for developing Head of Falls.

City Manager Michael Roy said that the meeting followed those held over the last several months with Kittredge, city and Colby College officials and others to discuss ways to revitalize the downtown, help spur economic development and attract more people to the city.

Kittredge’s firm was hired by Colby College to help explore possibilities and develop a plan for downtown.

Kittredge said he and his associates who attended Monday’s meeting, Liz Ellington and Michael O’Neill, had visited the city during all four seasons and walked the streets repeatedly.

He said discussions have been held about building student and faculty living spaces in the gap on the Main Street side of The Concourse, possibly restoring Main and Front streets’ traffic patterns from one-way to two-way, and making the intersection at Main, Water and Spring streets more pedestrian-friendly and a safer passageway for people walking to and from Hathaway Creative Center.

It is important, he said, to leverage existing strengths downtown, including the arts, the architecture and the character of downtown. Attracting more visitors and residents, filling vacant buildings downtown — including upper stories — and increasing economic activity by helping to build on existing businesses and drawing new ones, also is critical.

He said those who met over the last several months also discussed the idea of creating a sense of place with landscaping and streetscapes, and organizing a plan. In all the discussions, the importance of the waterfront kept cropping up, according to Kittredge.

“The incredible thing is how close the waterfront is to Main Street,” he said.

He said many cities would consider themselves fortunate to have a waterfront near their centers.

“We have this incredible kind of opportunity to have about a 12- or 14-acre — depending on how you measure it — space right on the river,” Kittredge said.

The city was created on the river because of the river, and when the industrial uses went away, the riverfront became an empty space; but now there is momentum to take the waterfront back, he said.

The city in 2004-05 secured a grant and borrowed money to do a $1.75 improvement project at Head of Falls, including installing sewer, water and electricity underground, according to Roy. A plaza and a park also were built there, and the Two Cent Bridge was improved, he said.

The Waterville Rotary Club also has committed itself to giving the city $150,000 in 2018 to help build a boardwalk at the waterfront to commemorate its 150th birthday, and it is hoped fundraising will be done to add to that amount, Roy said. The city and Kennebec Messalonskee Trails would be involved in the boardwalk project, he said.

Former Rep. Marilyn Canavan noted that many people from various cultural backgrounds lived at Head of Falls and their heritage could be preserved as part of development there.

“How about a museum?” she asked.

Peter Madigan said he lives on Gilman Street and has seen what the Alfond Center has done with drawing crowds to the Gilman Place gymnasium — and the same could happen at the waterfront.

“You get something with kids, sports down there, you will attract a crowd, because I see it at the Gilman Street School,” he said.

Kittredge noted the challenges involved in developing the waterfront, including limited access because of the railroad tracks and overpass north of the Two Cent Bridge, and the rapid current of the Kennebec River, making it unsafe for people to get into the water with a boat or by other means.

Discussions also are ongoing to explore ways to improve and enhance pedestrian links to the river via Temple Street.

Hathaway Creative Center developer Paul Boghossian said Temple Street is ugly and improving the streetscape there to help improve the pedestrian experience would not be a big hurdle and would entice more people to go there.

Other ideas discussed for the waterfront included building a restaurant as well as living and office space there.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17.


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