The brick façade encasing a beautiful old building named Edith was removed this week. Dating from 1906, this structure is emerging from a long sleep, only to face a deep shadow looming across the street.

Waterville’s City Council, led by its city manager, is in the process of rubber-stamping a bad deal for the city’s taxpayers, visitors, and businesses. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good deal. The point is that we don’t know because there has been no real public participation in the process of making it.

We are told that Colby College commissioned a private parking study last year that found that downtown Waterville has excess parking. The study has not been released in its entirety to the public. Consequently, we don’t know what the specific findings were nor how those conclusions were reached.

Apparently a handful of businesses were consulted, such as Framemakers, but the proposed parking area to be sold is not located near those businesses. In fact, none of the 22 businesses at 179 Main St., which is directly across from that parking area, were consulted. Nor was Care and Comfort, a major employer in downtown Waterville. What kind of study doesn’t bother to reach out to the people who are going to be affected by its conclusions?

Not only business owners, but customers and clients use the lot in question. Moreover, the farmers’ market uses that parking area on Thursdays. As the many businesses that have to schedule around this will tell you, the impact of losing those 90 spots even for one day a week is not positive for them even if it is positive for the community in general.

We need more parking, not less. No fewer than seven buildings have been purchased by Colby and by a Colby alumni. There is now, potentially, a magnificent stretch of historic buildings anchored by the fully-occupied and restored Cyr Professional Building and Berry’s Stationers. This promises a major improvement in downtown life. The potential for something wonderful is real but if the newly purchased buildings are renovated and used as anticipated, we will need another 300 parking spots, at minimum.

We also need more protected parking space, i.e. a parking garage. Why are we displacing public parking with a private use, i.e. a dorm for 200 students, which will create demand for at least a further 100 spots? That brings us up to 400 needed spots. Add the 90 that have been taken away, and we are short by 500 spaces!

What are the council members thinking? Do they know something that they haven’t told the rest of us?

Economics 101 would suggest that such a dramatic expansion in the need for parking in downtown equivalently increases the value of the property on which the existing parking sits. Why is the city selling valuable public property for a pittance? This has the appearance of a classic transfer of wealth from the public to selected private interests. We hope it isn’t, but then we can’t tell can we, because critical stakeholder groups have not been included in the development design and decision process.

Unlike the Disney version of “Sleeping Beauty,” in the original Grimm’s fairy tale there was no evil Maleficent, there was just the fairy that the King and Queen accidentally forgot to invite. Out of simple pique that fairy put the kingdom to sleep for a hundred years. Can we please not make that same classic mistake?

If we engage the stakeholder community’s creativity and commitment, we can make this development a big win for everyone. Every deal doesn’t have to have a loser in order for there to be winners. Once this property is sold for private use, it is lost, probably forever, for public use.

We have a wonderful opportunity to make a decision for the long-term economic benefit of this City. Approving the sale of this property in this way doesn’t further that and, moreover, will probably end badly. We need to avoid creating such a shadow over this revitalization.

Jennifer Kierstead owns Jennifer Kierstead Consulting and is a board member at the Running Start Institute. Michael Kelly, Ph.D., is president of the Running Start Institute.

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