WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday will consider authorizing City Manager Michael Roy to start negotiating with Colby College to sell city-owned land on The Concourse to Colby so it can build a student dormitory there, in the heart of downtown.

The land, about three-quarters of an acre, is the spot where the farmers market sets up on Thursdays during warmer weather. It is bordered by Main, Appleton and Temple streets.

Roy said Tuesday’s vote would be merely the first step in the process to consider selling the land to Colby. If the city decides to sell the property and Colby decides to buy it, councilors would have to vote on an order for the sale. An order requires two votes.

“The building would have to be commercial on the first floor,” Roy said of the proposed dormitory building. “Our zoning ordinance requires that any building with frontage on Main Street must be commercial, not residential.”

Having Colby students and staff living downtown is part of Colby’s effort to help the city revitalize the downtown. The college has bought several vacant downtown buildings and is seeking investors to work on developing a boutique hotel, retail businesses, housing and other entities there.

“In our discussions with Waterville leaders, there was broad agreement that having more people living downtown is critical to the success of revitalization efforts,” Colby spokeswoman Ruth Jacobs Jackson said Monday night. “A student residence complex with ground floor retail on the section of The Concourse that sits on Main Street would be a significant contribution from Colby toward this goal.”

Jackson said city leaders with whom Colby officials have discussed the idea have been supportive and are enthusiastic about Colby’s plan to include a civic engagement component in the student-life experience for those seeking to live in the complex. Colby plans to offer the housing to students who have a strong background in working with the city’s nonprofit organizations, schools or other organizations that focus on the public good.

“Constructing a residence hall in this location, including destination retail on the ground floor, would allow Waterville to attract retailers looking for brand new space especially configured for that purpose and would enhance the pedestrian character of the street, making it a more vibrant place,” Jackson said. “A cohort of students living on Main Street would enhance opportunities for success for existing and new commercial establishments and bring activity to the street.”

Colby also is working with the city on related efforts, including exploring ways to help improve traffic flow downtown. The plans include possibly building a roundabout at the intersection of Spring, Water and Main streets.

City councilors will enter executive, or private, session at 6:45 p.m., prior to their 7 p.m. regular meeting, to discuss how to come up with a price for the land on The Concourse, so that Roy can approach Colby officials to say what the city believes the property is worth, according to Roy.

Asked if city officials have discussed where the farmers market would be located if Colby buys the property on The Concourse, Roy said they have not yet discussed that.

“Certainly, we want to find them a place that they’re happy with,” he said of the outdoor farmers market, which typically runs April to November.

Officials and merchants have discussed the possibility of the farmers market moving out of The Concourse and onto the nearby city-owned Head of Falls park area, off Front Street along the Kennebec River. The city has made improvements there in recent years, including installation of underground utilities.

Roy said he hopes the sale to Colby occurs this year, but he does not think a dormitory would be built this year.

The space on The Concourse bordering Main Street, which Colby wants to buy, housed retail businesses many years ago, including Bea’s Candy Kitchen; Yardgoods Center; Diambri’s restaurant, which later became the Villager; Rossignol Jewelers; and Admors Cleaners, according to Yardgoods owner Ken Vlodek.

During urban renewal efforts in the 1960s, the buildings that housed those businesses on Main Street were torn down and some of them, including Yardgoods, Diambri’s, Rossignol’s and Admors, moved farther back on The Concourse to where The Villager and Yardgoods are located now. Diambri’s changed its name to The Villager when it moved, Vlodek said Monday. Parks Diner was off Appleton Street in that area.

Vlodek is excited about all of the changes Colby plans to make downtown.

“These are all the ideas we’ve been thinking of for years, and we could not find an investor who could do it,” he said, adding that Colby has the wherewithal to launch such improvements. Parents of college students look at a community’s downtown, and if it looks vibrant, they are more likely to want to send their children there, according to Vlodek.

“It’s good for everyone. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the businesses. It’s good for Colby. It’s good for parents,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Vlodek said he applauds Colby’s president, David Greene, for his vision of having the college be part of downtown.

“It’s awesome that they’re investing in downtown,” he said.

Vlodek said when he spoke recently to Roy, he proposed an intriguing idea: to have Yardgoods, The Villager and other businesses that moved farther back on the Concourse during urban renewal move back to Main Street and locate the dormitory back where those businesses are now, in a quieter setting.

“To me, it would be the sensible thing to do,” Vlodek said.

The council on Tuesday also expects to vote on whether to hire a traffic consultant to study traffic, parking and other transportation concerns in the downtown area. The council voted 7-0 Jan. 5 to hire a consultant, and this would be its second and final vote.

The city would spend up to $35,000 from the downtown tax increment financing account for the traffic study. Colby and the state Department of Transportation would share equally in the cost of that study.

Roy will be authorized to sign the contract for the study once a consultant has been chosen by the three parties. Roy said Monday that the city got two responses to a request for interested consultants.

In other matters Tuesday, councilors will consider referring to the Planning Board a request to rezone 319 Main St. to allow apartments to be built in a barn on the property. The house and barn on the lot, located at the corner of Main and High streets, are next to a small mall on Main Street that houses The UPS store.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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