Waterville’s emerging renaissance is not new — it’s the fruition of decades of work by many people, most of whom lived and worked here through difficult times.

In 1999, when I moved my business to Waterville, the city was a wasteland of failed industry. We were reeling economically, and huge job losses had devastated the social heart of the community.

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. Municipal, civic and business leaders rallied with the support of hundreds of local residents during a national recession. Instead of becoming one more rust-belt ghost town, we raised and invested millions of public and private dollars to restore our infrastructure: Waterville Opera House, Waterville Public Library, Hathaway Creative Center.

We purchased and developed the 200-acre Quarry Road Recreation Area, developed Head of Falls, improved Main Street, and constructed miles of recreational trails. We also began building for a sustainable future by weatherizing hundreds of homes.

Funds came from local and state taxpayers, individuals, businesses, economic development corporations, local banks, health organizations, nonprofits and family foundations.

Much of what we did, though not all of it, was spearheaded by local residents through tens of thousands of volunteer hours. We, Waterville, took action. Grassroots groups formed to focus on community participation (REM), long-term sustainability (Sustain Mid Maine Coalition), and support for public recreation areas (Friends of Quarry Road, Friends of Green Street Park).

These groups, and more, are still at it every day.

Oddly, our experience, insight, creativity and wisdom have been overlooked for the downtown revitalization spearheaded by Colby College. Long term advocates for a Complete Streets policy and climate planning, among others, have not been acknowledged or consulted by the city administration.

Failing to include us is an oversight politically, therefore, constructively, we are stepping up as we have in the past.

A group of us — Waterville Creates, Running Start Institute, Colby Center for the Arts and Humanities, the South End Neighborhood Association, Waterville Public Library, and REM — are initiating an inclusive community-based design effort. Healthy Northern Kennebec has self-identified as a stakeholder. Kennebec Messalonskee Trails’ board has voted unananimously in support of this effort. More are joining.

Proposals have been submitted to outside funders for a 2.5-day community event this summer. A group representing all the stakeholders in the success of downtown Waterville will be invited to visualize evidence-based, alternative futures for Waterville, select and articulate a preferred vision, and create an action plan using the Community Catalyst process, which has been used previously in Waterville with great success.

Our intention is to:

1. Substantially broaden creative participation in the revitalization effort;

2. Enlist expert help to visualize evidence-based alternative futures for Waterville that factor in public health, climate adaptation, and long-term sustainability;

3. Involve all stakeholders (including the people who live and work in downtown Waterville); and

4. Provide specific recommendations to further guide the revitalization effort.

Individuals invited to participate will include many who have contributed substantially to prior planning and implementation efforts since 1996, as well as new stakeholders. Colby, city officials and outside experts are warmly invited.

Colby President David Greene was very clear in his remarks at a Mid-Maine Chamber breakfast: Colby can’t do it all. We agree.

It is up to all of us to ensure that we make the most of an opportunity that will affect Waterville for the next hundred years. Vital considerations impacting the city’s long term economic, environmental and public health need to be taken into account.

This process will be transformative. It will increase the chances of long-term success and economic vitality in the city, by involving the full range of people who have long had the greatest stake in the city’s success and by addressing issues that will enhance long-term sustainability.

It’s wonderful that Colby is investing in downtown Waterville. Let’s combine that new investment with those of other major stakeholders who have been deeply engaged in Waterville for decades.

It is the united efforts of civic, business and government that carried this city through both the devastating losses of mill closures and the Great Recession. Our new design process will get all of us working together to achieve a vision that will delight all of us.

Jennifer Kierstead is the president of Jennifer Kierstead Consulting in Waterville, and a board member of the Running Start Institute.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: