WATERVILLE — Diagonal parking downtown is unsafe and causes traffic accidents, and crossing the street is dangerous because people drive too fast.

Changing the traffic pattern on Main Street downtown from one-way to two-way traffic would be beneficial as long as some details are worked out such as ensuring safe deliveries to businesses.

Those were some of the themes that came out of five public meetings held in April and May where people discussed planning for downtown revitalization, according to Neil Kittredge of Beyer Blinder Belle, of New York.

Kittredge, a consultant working for the city and Colby College, spoke to more than 60 people who turned out Monday night at Hathaway Creative Center for a final meeting to summarize the downtown process, but Kittredge and City Manager Michael Roy said the meetings were in many ways just a beginning.

“It’s certainly not the end,” Roy said. “I think the downtown initiative is going to continue to evolve. We’re going to do our best to involve you all the way.”

Kittredge said about 200 business owners and employees, residents, city officials, economic development groups and downtown advocates attended the five meetings and gave valuable input. About 300 people watched the meetings live-streamed online, he said.


“Really fantastic level of participation from all of you,” he said.

Some who attended the meetings were born in Waterville and have lived here all their lives. Others are new to town with new jobs or businesses, Kittredge said. Property owners, developers and representatives of cultural organizations and institutions attended — even those who do not live in Waterville but enjoy coming here, he said.

“The energy of these meetings has been incredibly positive,” he said.

He and Roy explained that city councilors in February adopted a revitalization strategy that included a focus on increasing the number of people living downtown to help stimulate economic activity, improving the downtown to make it a regional destination for the arts, shopping and other activities, improving the physical environment and ensuring long-term business and economic growth.

The process to plan for revitalization began more than a year ago when the city and Colby College held meetings with businesses, economic development organizations, those who work in the arts and cultural organizations and others to identify what the city needs for revitalization.

Addressing vacant and deteriorating buildings was key, participants determined. Colby College then bought five vacant buildings downtown and plans to partner with investors to renovate them. Colby also plans to build a student living complex on the northeast corner of The Concourse and hopes to be part of developing a boutique hotel. Downtown business owner Bill Mitchell bought two historic buildings on Common Street and is renovating them. A new restaurant, The Proper Pig, is to open soon in one of Mitchell’s buildings.


Colby alumnus Justin DePre and his family also bought two buildings on Main Street and is renovating them.

Kittredge said broad themes that came out of the five public meetings this spring included those involving traffic, parking, economic development, history and identity, crime and safety and social equity and diversity.

He said there was support for having parallel parking downtown and wider sidewalks so there is more space for outdoor dining, shopping and walking; seasonal or weekend street closures for festival, music and other events; and two-way traffic on Main and Front streets to slow traffic down.

Those who attended the meetings also discussed parking, he said.

“We heard more about parking than anything else — it happens every time,” Kittredge said.

Tension between customers, employees and residents was evident, and there is a lot of competition between different people trying to get the best parking spots downtown, according to Kittredge. Meeting attendees said parking enforcement was inconsistent, and many parkers abuse the two-hour parking limit downtown, he said. People said trucks can’t get through The Concourse because of the way the road winds around the Ticonic sculpture, he said, and remote parking areas such as Head of Falls are available but need to have improved safety features.


People support a parking system that allows visitors and customers to have the closest parking spaces to businesses, and the elderly and the disabled should be able to park close to businesses. Those who spoke at the meetings also insisted employee parking should be relocated to designated peripheral parking areas, according to Kittredge.

A separate study is being conducted to consider traffic and parking and is expected to be completed in July, at which time another public meeting will be held, Roy said.

John Fortier, owner of State Farm Insurance on Silver Street, said it is important not to eliminate spaces downtown. Changing from diagonal to parallel parking will mean some spaces will be eliminated.

“We need to take stock of the businesses that are currently there and try to protect those parking spaces as much as possible,” he said.

But Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance on Main Street, said he and his employees and 9,000 customers have never had a parking problem downtown, nor has he heard any complaints from them.

“The issue of downtown parking has become, in my opinion, slightly exaggerated in terms of the concerns about it,” he said.


Mitchell said he does not think there is a parking problem downtown.

“I think we have a management problem. We’re not really managing parking in an effective way.”

What Waterville has a lack of, he said, is business and reinvigoration. He said he has heard estimates that $50 million is slated to be invested in downtown as part of revitalization.

“And we’re debating whether we think this is how we want to go about doing this?” he said, adding that parking issues will be figured out. He urged people not to get hung up on details.

“We’re all in this together, all right?” he said. “It’s now. Let’s work with Neil, let’s work with Colby, let’s work with the city, let’s work together for the best interest of all of us. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

His comments drew applause.


Sidney Geller, who owns several properties downtown, said a focus should be on the buildings toward the northern part of downtown across the street from where the new dormitory will be built. He said he owns one of those buildings.

“If you are going to be putting in more offices, you need more parking at that end of the street and I have a suggestion,” Geller said.

Colby purchased the former Elks building on Appleton Street and Geller said he heard it could be torn down. That could be one of the parking areas for that end of downtown, he said.

“I think that you have to consider all of the patrons and also the clients in those office buildings,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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