WATERVILLE — Men’s and women’s clothing stores, an outdoors shop, a museum shop, an amphitheater, a hardware store.

Those were some of the businesses people at a forum Thursday night cited as retail offerings that would attract more people downtown and help spur economic development.

About 40 people turned out for the meeting, hosted by the city, Colby College, Waterville Main Street and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, to discuss how downtown revitalization will affect businesses, their customers, deliveries, parking and other issues.

It was the third such meeting held this week at The Center to get input from business owners, employees and residents.

Thursday night’s meeting focused on buildings on the west side of Main Street, from KeyBank to The Paragon Shop, at the corner of Silver and Main. The first two meetings, held Wednesday night and Thursday morning, were for businesses and residents from Main and Temple streets north to the fire station and including the Waterville Public Library.

Participants in all three sessions raised concerns about parking, saying when hundreds more people are living and working downtown, parking options will be minimized.

Neil Kittredge, a partner in the architecture and planning firm Beyer, Blinder Belle, of New York, said a separate, comprehensive transportation study looking at traffic and parking is underway that will recommend a whole system for parking downtown that will work best for businesses and visitors. Exploring ways to ensure customers have the most convenient parking and downtown business employees also have adequate parking is important, and planners have not ruled out building a parking garage, according to Kittredge.

Thursday night’s meeting was interactive and animated, with business owners and others pitching ideas to Kittredge and Brian Clark, assistant to the president and planning director for Colby College, about ways to make downtown a place where people want to shop, eat, recreate and patronize arts and cultural offerings.

Colby has bought five buildings downtown with plans to partner with investors to develop a boutique hotel, a student and staff apartment building and a mix of offices and retail shops. The college is expected to infuse millions of dollars into the downtown as part of the effort.

After Kittredge asked people what types of retail offerings they want to see downtown, they pitched not only business ideas, but also ideas for events.

Bruce Fowler, who manages seven buildings downtown, said people would come to Waterville not only to eat and shop, but also to attend large events, and they would stay for more than just a day. He cited craft shows, car shows and cooking events as possibilities. Jim O’Keeffe, who owns Joe’s Smoke Shop, Happy Trails and Poulin’s Opticians with his wife, Angel, said he’d like to see a jazz show hosted in the city. Fowler said if you want people on Main Street, you have to get them to come for events.

“You need to draw them to the central Maine area, and then while they’re here, they’ll shop, and so on and so forth,” he said.

Robert Sezak, owner of Re-BOOKS on Main Street, said the city also should capitalize on its historical assets.

“Get the Lombard Tractor out of hiding and get it visible and approachable,” he said.

The Lombard Tractor, a steam log hauler invented in Waterville, sits in an enclosure at the entrance to the downtown, south of the former Levine’s store, which Colby bought and is looking to turn into a boutique hotel.

Former Mayor Karen Heck said there was a Lamey-Wellehan shoe store downtown that left, but it was the kind of store needed downtown.

“I think a bike shop and-or a canoe and kayak shop, because we have the river,” she said. “I think about a museum store or art gallery, and I think we need some different restaurants and (a) cocktail bar.”

Roger St. Amand, owner of The Paragon Shop, said he liked all the ideas people were presenting but cautioned planners to keep in mind that accessibility to businesses will be critical while construction is going on downtown.

“You need to be careful what you’re doing,” he said.

Heck said everyone, not just city and Colby officials, needs to help make revitalization happen, and they need to ask what they can do to ensure that. She said if people know, for instance, that accessibility to shops will be tougher during construction, they will go downtown and patronize the shops.

Candace Savinelli, who owns Holy Cannoli with her husband, Tom, and recently partnered with Mayor Nick Isgro in opening the new Napoli Italian Market on Main Street, said she moved to Waterville several years ago from West Haven, Connecticut, and saw a lot of potential here, and that’s why she opened her business. She said she saw at the time that the downtown economy was on the edge of going either way, and when she heard that Colby and others were planning the revitalization effort, she decided to expand.

“I’m here to stay,” she said. “This is my town; this is my city. I love my city and I love my customers, and I want this to happen.”

Heck praised Savinelli’s attitude and said that is what she wants to hear. Such attitudes will help make downtown successful and vibrant, according to Heck.

Business owners and employees cited concerns about parking and delivery issues in their areas, including problems truck drivers have while trying to maneuver around islands and around the Ticonic sculpture on The Concourse — especially in winter, when a lot of snow is there.

Candace Savinelli said derelicts hang around The Concourse at night and one person set up a tent in the little park and was living there. Police would have to be there all day to prevent that from happening, she said. Like business owners at Wednesday’s meeting, Savinelli said she worries about employees getting to their vehicles safely when they leave businesses at night. Sezak said employees of businesses often park in spaces customers should be able to use. Drivers unfamiliar with the area sometimes go the wrong way down Silver Street, according to Fowler and St. Amand. Many said convenient parking is at a premium when the farmers market operates in the northeast corner of The Concourse on Thursdays, effectively taking about 90 spaces.

The dormitory Colby plans to build will be on that spot, but the farmers market will continue in that space this summer, according to officials.

Kittredge said if two-way traffic is restored to Main Street, only about 20 parking spaces would be lost, and it would open up the opportunity for widening sidewalks downtown. That would make it easier to have outdoor dining and improve pedestrian activity, he said. Candace Savinelli said she would like the sidewalks widened, as the one on her side of the street is not wide enough for outdoor dining.

“We have a very short sidewalk,” she said. “I feel we lost patrons because we don’t have the outside dining, and it would be nice to be able to have that.”

Brian Vigue, who owns The Framemakers with his wife, Amy Cyrway, asked who will be responsible for finding businesses to occupy properties Colby has bought downtown.

Clark said the market will be one of the determinants; and Colby has hired Paul Ureneck, who was at the meeting, as its first commercial real estate developer, and that will be part of his work. Waterville Main Street, the Central Maine Growth Council, Waterville Creates!, the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and others are working together on those issues as well.

At an earlier meeting focusing on the east side of Main Street between Temple and Appleton streets, parking and safety were some of the issues raised.

Leah Oliver, owner of Sparrows Consignment at the corner of Temple and Main streets, said later Thursday that she expressed concern in that meeting that with an influx of more people downtown, vandalism would increase. Oliver said she has had to replace store windows and a door of her business because of vandalism. She also was concerned about employee parking and said that while Head of Falls is an obvious option for extra parking, some changes need to be made there, including additional lighting and deterring loitering. She also told planners that small businesses that have been downtown for a while have worked hard and weathered the economic storm, and while they are on board with revitalization and bringing in new businesses, she hopes the existing ones are supported as well.

Oliver said she thought her concerns were heard, and planners agreed with her on some of the issues she raised. It was a good meeting, she said, adding that she walked away from it feeling better about the project than she had before.

The city plans to extend the downtown historic district to include the area from Temple to Appleton streets so businesses can take advantage of historic tax credits to redevelop their buildings. Already, Justin DePre and his family, who bought two buildings in that area of Main Street, have removed the facades on the structures to reveal the original bricks and architecture.

Mitchell & Associates, of Portland, was hired by the city to design a river walk at Head of Falls.

More downtown meetings will be held May 2 and 3, at times to be announced. The May 2 meeting will be for businesses in the area of Spring Street, where it meets Main Street; and the May 3 meeting will include the arts and civic district around Castonguay Square by City Hall. One-on-one meetings also will be held for businesses on West Concourse, at dates and times to be announced.

The meetings are organized to correspond with various areas of downtown because the areas have different problems, officials said.

City Manager Michael Roy said at Thursday’s meeting that one of the two May meetings will be in the evening and the city will advertise the times. The traffic study, he said, is expected to be completed in July or August, and public meetings will be held before then at dates and times to be announced.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.