WATERVILLE — How to ensure there will be enough parking downtown with all the new development expected to take place over the next few years was the big question business owners, employees and residents in the north part of downtown asked at a forum Tuesday night.

About 50 people turned out in the City Council chamber at The Center to discuss how downtown revitalization, which is expected to bring hundreds more people living and working downtown, will affect businesses.

Many business owners said parking options already are limited downtown and it will be worse when 200 students and faculty members live in a Colby College dormitory to be built at the corner of Appleton and Main streets, displacing about 90 parking spaces there now. Already, when the Downtown Waterville Farmers Market is held there on Thursdays in warm weather, there is a parking crunch, they said.

Ken Vlodek, owner of Yardgoods Center on The Concourse, said he has been involved in parking issues since the 1970s and the only parking program that has come close to working is the star system, which designates some spaces with stars and allows all-day parking on The Concourse. On Thursdays, the 90 spaces are filled, which kills business, he said.

“There is no business on Thursday,” Vlodek said. “It takes all of the parking.”

Bobby McGee, who owns Selah Tea with his wife, Rachel, said people driving 160 vehicles a day come through his business doors and revenue drops 40 percent on Thursdays.

Cindy Jacobs, president of the Waterville Public Library board of trustees, said it is tough for the employees and library patrons.

“We have women and children with strollers and older people, and the library is open 10 to 7,” she said.

Susan Giguere, owner of Care & Comfort, on the north corner of Main and Appleton streets, said she is worried for employees who will have to park farther away from her building — particularly those who leave the building at night.

“That’s a concern for many female employees,” she said.

Tuesday’s meeting was one of several scheduled and being hosted by the city, Colby College, Waterville Main Street and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, to get input from businesses and residents about revitalization. The meetings are being held for various sections of downtown, with two more meetings scheduled for 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The early meeting will be for businesses and residents in the area from Temple to Appleton streets on the east side of Main Street, and the afternoon meeting will be for the row of businesses on the west side of Main, from Temple to Silver Street. Anyone may attend any meeting, however.

Neil Kittredge a partner in Beyer Blinder Belle, of New York City, who was hired by Colby College to help develop a plan for downtown, said the meetings focus on the needs of businesses, and officials will look at where their visitors are coming from, where they are parking, where loading for businesses takes place and how the buildings are accessed. How revitalization will affect the businesses and how planners can help resolve issues so businesses operate smoothly is a priority, he said.

The state Department of Transportation is doing a comprehensive traffic and parking study to address issues in a way that will help spur economic development and assist businesses to be successful, he said.

The city, Colby President David Greene and downtown advocates met several times last year to discuss ways to revitalize the downtown, attract more business, aid businesses already here, draw more people to live and work downtown, enhance the arts and create a more vibrant downtown.

They identified as a priority dealing with vacant and deteriorating buildings downtown. Colby over several months bought five of those buildings with plans to partner with investors and develop them with retail and offices. Colby also is buying the northeast spot on The Concourse from the city for $300,000 to build a dormitory for about 150 students who will be involved in a comprehensive academic program that involves civic engagement and community service. Apartments for faculty and staff members will be in the dormitory. The building’s ground floor will house retail businesses.

Downtown businessman Paul Mitchell bought two historic buildings on Common Street as part of the revitalization effort and Justin DePre, a Colby alumnus, and his family bought two buildings on Main Street. Mayor Nick Isgro also opened Napoli Italian Market on Main Street with Candace and Tom Savinelli as part of the effort.

Kittredge and Brian Clark, assistant to the president and director of planning at Colby, presented overviews of the work that has been done so far in the revitalization process, with Clark saying the former Levine’s building at 9 Main St. is being considered for a hotel.

As part of the revitalization effort, Greene, city and state officials and others helped to draw the technology company Collaborative Consulting, of Burlington, Massachusetts, to Waterville. About 20 of its employees already are working in a temporary space at the Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street. The company plans to move downtown later and expects to employ 200 people in three to five years.

Kittredge assured those who attended Tuesday’s meeting that their comments would be taken into consideration as plans progress. The most important thing, he said, is for everyone to have a shared vision of the downtown plan and that people are comfortable with it.

Those doing the traffic study will make recommendations for how best to ensure adequate parking for businesses and visitors to downtown and improve pedestrian access from downtown to Hathaway Creative Center, Kittredge said. In response to Giguere’s question about safety for her employees having to walk farther to their vehicles, Kittredge said that with more activity and people downtown, there will be increased safety.

“There is some benefit from having the activity in terms of safety,” he said. “Just having more people around makes it feel safer.”

Giguere’s husband, Leo, asked if any consideration has been given to building a parking garage downtown. Kittredge said it had been talked about.

“The idea is that this parking plan may eventually lead to that as a long-term strategy, but parking is very expensive. …” he said.

Such garages require operating expenses and maybe a fee for parking, he said. The entire parking system downtown will have to be looked at in detail, he said.

Vlodek said in some places, parking garages have been built that are unused.

“I’d hate to see us get into that situation, to build a parking garage and find it unused,” he said.

Clark noted that about 50 percent of Colby students have vehicles and some can live off campus without vehicles. Colby also would run a shuttle vehicle between downtown and the campus on Mayflower Hill, he said.

Sandy Day, owner of Day’s Travel on Main Street, wondered aloud how planners would make up for the 90 parking spaces to be lost when the dormitory is built.

“Fill the dorm with poor kids that can’t afford cars,” he said, to laughter from the group.

Several people said that adding more and interesting shops downtown would encourage people to spend a lot of time downtown, as opposed to merely patronizing one or two businesses and then leaving. The idea is to get people to shop, eat, go to a show and take part in any number of activities downtown, they said.

Lisa Hallee said there was a time when the Old Port in Portland was a place people did not want to go because it was unsafe and buildings were blighted. Now she thinks nothing of spending money to park in a parking garage there to patronize all the shops.

“That’s what we’re aiming for here,” she said.

Kathryn Kelly said older people want to park as close to businesses as possible when they come downtown.

“I’m not sure who you’re trying to get to shop here, but if you want to include older adults, they have to park close to where they shop,” she said.

She urged planners to take the elderly and those who are disabled into consideration as part of the process. Kittredge said that would happen.

“We want a downtown for everyone. I think that’s a critical principle,” he said.

Jennifer Kierstead, who owns a consulting business on Main Street, urged planners to take into account the old infrastructure downtown, including buildings and sewer pipes. There is a lot more precipitation in northern New England than ever before and more water is flowing in the area, she said. She asked planners to consult with Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District and Kennebec Water District on their plans.

Bruce Fowler, who manages properties on Main Street, recommended they also not plant trees on top of infrastructure, including on the electrical network and water and sewer mains.

Fowler, meanwhile, said Waterville is a shopping destination for the region and needs to promote and advertise itself, and then the people will come. He said any established downtown is going to have parking problems.

“The key to having a vibrant downtown is to promote the crap out of it,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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