WATERVILLE — City councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to sell part of The Concourse downtown to Colby College for $300,000 so Colby can build a dormitory there for students, faculty and staff.

The unanimous vote followed a long discussion in a packed council chamber where Colby and city officials, downtown business owners and others debated the merits of selling the property as part of a revitalization effort. The council must take another vote to finalize the sale, and that vote is expected in two weeks. Councilors also voted 7-0 to adopt a downtown revitalization strategy developed at meetings of Colby and city officials, business leaders and others, held over six months last year.

Some business Tuesday owners urged the council to delay a vote to sell the 0.77-acre parcel on The Concourse until a traffic study of the downtown is completed in July; others said the time to sell the property is now, when Colby has a plan to bring many people downtown, help the city revitalize downtown and boost economic development.

Many people said there is inadequate parking downtown now and removing 90 spaces on the northeast corner of The Concourse to build a dormitory would strain parking even further. Some business owners said a parking garage must be built to accommodate all the additional residents and workers who would be coming downtown.

Resident Julian Payne, after hearing all the arguments for and against, said he thought the city would be crazy not to accept Colby’s offer quickly.

“You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” Payne said.

Colby, which wants to create an entire program around students living in the dormitory and taking part in civic engagement and community service, also has bought five vacant and deteriorating buildings downtown with plans to partner with investors to renovate them and create retail businesses, offices and a boutique hotel.

Colby is investing tens of millions of dollars into the downtown, according to Colby President David Greene, who spoke Tuesday about the college’s efforts to work with the city to help revitalize downtown and boost economic development. Greene also worked on an effort to draw Collaborative Consulting, a technology company based in Burlington, Massachusetts, to the city. The company plans to bring 200 jobs here within the next three to five years.

John Williams, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Collaborative, said he is looking for appropriate space now for employees to start working. He said he is excited to be in Waterville.

“We’re here because Colby College has created real excitement in this town,” Williams said.

He said his company drove by Waterville a number of times to go to towns north of here that are further along economically, but chose Waterville.

“Colby College, David Greene, painted a picture to us that really made us want to be a part of it,” Williams said.

He said that he expects that, having 200 workers here, 200 parking spaces will be needed, but he has faith that those studying the traffic and parking situation will figure out solutions.

“We’re in a hurry,” he said. “We want to hire people. We want to get it rolling. It’s now.”

Ken Vlodek, owner of Yardgoods Center on The Concourse, said parking always has been a problem downtown, and when the farmers market is in session Thursdays during warmer months on the spot Colby wants to buy, parking is even scarcer. Vlodek said that, as much as a dormitory would bring more people downtown, the idea of selling it today is premature. He said officials should wait until the traffic study, launched Monday, is complete. The city, Colby and state Department of Transportation are funding the $102,000 study, being headed up by Gorrill Palmer consulting engineers, of Gray.

Vlodek said a parking garage is needed downtown, but the city never has wanted to fund one. The city has one of the highest tax rates in the state and residents will not want to see it go over $30 per $1,000 worth of valuation to pay for such a garage, he said.

“Unless Colby pays for this parking garage, I don’t see how this is going to work,” he said.

Brian Vigue, who owns The Framemakers downtown with his wife, Amy Cyrway, said he is sad about what is going on. He said architects working for Colby visited his and two others businesses in October and they had a good conversation about parking, but they never returned to continue the conversation. Vigue said business owners have not had a chance to voice their concerns.

Mayor Nick Isgro said that is why the traffic study is happening — to continue the process. Development can not occur until the traffic study is complete.

“The public process comes when something actually happens,” he said.

Robert Sezak, owner of Re-books on The Concourse, said if a building is to be constructed on The Concourse, it should be a plaza, with covered parking on the ground level, so people can see through to where they plan to go downtown. He also was concerned about parking.

“This displacement of parking also creates a need for more parking — not just the 90 spaces, but more. My estimate is 200 spaces.”

He was referring to the 90 spaces that would be lost if Colby buys the spot.

John Dalton, president of Inland Hospital, said Inland has medical offices on The Concourse, with 20 employees and 120 patients visiting per day. He also said he believes the project would affect parking, but he is confident that Colby and the city will address and resolve those issues.

“I further believe and our hospital fully supports this purchase because this is the start of a revitalization, and I urge you to vote ‘yes,'” he told councilors.

Jennifer Kierstead, of Jennifer Kierstead Consulting downtown, said she favors postponing the sale until the traffic study results are in and residents have a chance to weigh in on the matter. Like some others, she was concerned about the farmers market being displaced, but Isgro said Colby met with market leaders and they are working on a plan.

“This isn’t a process where we’ve overlooked them,” Isgro said.

Bill Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance Agency downtown, who sat in on revitalization meetings last year and bought two historic buildings on Common Street and is renovating them as part of downtown revitalization, said Colby officials do not want to rush through the process — they want to do it right. The effort, he said, can not be put off. Investors are looking at Waterville now and do not want people debating all day long, he said.

“We have an amazing partner in this city — Colby College,” he said.

He said the city should move now.

“I think the time is now. I strongly urge the council to approve this vote tonight,” he said.

Former Mayor Karen Heck and Waterville Public Library Director Sarah Sugden also recommended approval.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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