AUGUSTA — What Augusta will look like in two or more decades might be traced back to a meeting that happened at noon Friday in Conference Room A of the Augusta City Center.

For an hour and a half, George O’Keefe, of O’Keefe Strategic Services, along with Sarah Fuller, of Fuller Ink, and urban designer Brian Kent, of Kent Associates, laid the groundwork at the inaugural meeting of the Mayor’s Economic and Workforce Development Committee for a big idea that might help reshape Maine’s capital city and how it thinks about itself.

With support drawn from both the public and private sectors, the Envision Augusta plan uses a market-based development approach that breaks down into four parts — economic diversification, multi-modal transportation, mixed-use urbanization and public facilities redevelopment — and adds up to a vital community that will attract and keep people, energy and talent in Augusta.

“It’s a good thing for people to see that Augusta is worth it,” O’Keefe said.

In its current incarnation, the projects outlined in the plan carry a price tag of $1.5 billion and include big-ticket items such as a new Veterans Affairs hospital, a passenger rail extension that runs through Augusta to Waterville, investments in advanced manufacturing industrial development and training and mixed-use urban development that will create higher population density in Augusta’s center that will support retail development and a transit system.

The plan identifies areas in and around Augusta that the consultants see as important, including the downtown area, Western Avenue and the VA Maine Healthcare System complex at Togus, all of which represent opportunities for growth and development.

The vision, O’Keefe said, takes some chances on where the community should head. But its value comes in shaking up the status quo and offering ideas that are different in scope, he said.

The reception from the committee, made up of at-large Councilor Marcy Alexander, Ward 3 Councilor Patrick Paradis, Superintendent of Schools James Anastasio, University of Maine at Augusta President Jim Conneely, Augusta Board of Trade Chairman Jason Gall, state economic development specialist Brian Whitney, and Bruce Holmes, a Realtor, in addition to the co-chairmen Mayor David Rollins and Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant, was mostly positive and timely.

But some complicating factors also were aired.

Another of the possibilities the plan outlines is relocating the Augusta airport and making better use of that land, but City Manager William Bridgeo said there are a number of considerations that would affect that and other suggestions.

“One of the practical concerns is our obligation to the Federal Aviation Administration from when we redid the runway,” he said.

Rollins said the city has a long-range plan that’s designed to guide policy decisions at the municipal level.

“We have the comprehensive plan right on the horizon,” he said.

The planning process appears to open the door for some consideration of the Envision Augusta proposal.

Paradis said the plan also echoes the goals planning the council completed in January.

City officials have looked at how portions of Augusta might be developed. In 2011, a city report envisioned linking the east and west sides of the city with a pedestrian path across the Kennebec River on the train trestle that spans the river. And in 2012, consultants with Eaton Peabody Consulting Group and Port City Architecture proposed a redevelopment plan for the former Statler Tissue mill site that included an open urban market, a train station, a restaurant and retail shops.

The next step in the Envision Augusta process, O’Keefe said, is to give the same presentation to the Augusta Board of Trade and secure private funding to start developing illustrations of what a redeveloped Augusta might look like, and use those as a starting point to build consensus.

“We have concerns, but we don’t have a plan,” O’Keefe said. “Now is better than later.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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