WATERVILLE — The city of Waterville is reinventing itself.

That was part of the message Tuesday night during a robust celebration of the city’s growth in which old words took on new meaning. The words were “renaissance,” “rebirth,” and most of all, speakers and community leaders said, “teamwork.”

An evening of art, food, live music and speeches was capped with remarks and heartfelt storytelling by Waterville native and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell. Mitchell’s nephew Bill Mitchell hosted the events inside and in a large tent outside the buildings on Common Street that he has bought, renovated and brought back to producing a business payroll.

“I don’t think I’ve had a better feeling about Waterville,” said George Mitchell, who grew up nearby at Head of Falls and whose father was a groundskeeper at Colby College. “I can’t think of anytime when I have had a more positive feeling about Waterville, our community’s future and what can be done to improve the lives of the people.”

Mitchell praised Colby and its new president, David Greene, and Thomas College and its president, Laurie LaChance, for their commitment to not only their students, but to the Waterville area.

“I think it represents the best of any society when people involved in higher education devote themselves not just to those who are in their institution, but to all members of the community,” Mitchell said.

The events, called Harvest on the Square, were hosted by Bill Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance Agency, and his wife, Vicki, as well as Colby and Thomas colleges, the city and organizations that include Waterville Public Library, the YMCA/Boys and Girls Club, The Waterville Opera House, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Film Center and the Alfond Family Foundation, which was ready with a check from Chairman Greg Powell for the arts group Waterville Creates!

Bill Mitchell in August bought two historic buildings on Common Street and is renovating them to be as they were years ago. City Manager Mike Roy said the work going on in downtown Waterville rivals the work done during urban renewal in the late 1960s.

Mitchell’s purchase of the buildings at 14-18 and 20-24 Common St. is part of an ongoing effort by Colby and city officials, as well as downtown organizations and businesses, to help revitalize and rejuvenate the downtown, attract more residents and businesses to downtown and help spur the local economy. Colby has bought four vacant buildings downtown with plans to renovate them and possibly develop a boutique hotel, retail shops and college faculty and student living quarters.

The buildings on Common Street were alive Tuesday night with three floors of art displays, live music, food and shoulder-to-shoulder good vibes.

“This is a very exciting time in Waterville,” Bill Mitchell said from a freshly painted room in the building. “All of the discussions going around about arts and performing arts, with the announcements by Colby and the things they want to do downtown, it’s a very exciting time in Waterville.

“This is real. There will be a significant initiative over the next 12 to 24 months that will really transform our downtown in a big way.”

Discussions are being held about making streets more attractive and pedestrian- and traffic-friendly, developing the waterfront at Head of Falls and creating a more vibrant downtown.

Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street, spoke for most Tuesday night when she said collaboration has been the key to the partnership of economic development and the arts in Waterville.

“I’m really excited that the investment in Waterville is growing from the inside. That’s the big news here,” Olsen said. “Colby as a neighbor and a stakeholder, Bill Mitchell as a neighbor and a stakeholder — these guys love Waterville already, and they’re staying and making a significant investment.”

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro said that, yes, indeed, the changes are real and the city’s future is bright.

“I think that this is really the kickoff to seeing Waterville really rise as an arts community,” Isgro said. “Over the last five to 10 years, millions of dollars have been invested in our various art centers, such as the library, at the Colby (College) Museum of Art, the Opera House. What the arts can do is really bring people from outside of Waterville.

“We’re all in this together as one community, supporting each other.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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