WATERVILLE — A Massachusetts man who has traveled to Waterville for 15 years as part of his Boston business says he hopes to transform the former Ken-A-Set building downtown into a microbrewery, sports bar and restaurant on the first floor and a nightclub on the second floor.

Mark McLeod, 49, of Wilmington, Massachusetts, owner of Boston Eye Design, bought the building at 1 College Ave. several weeks ago and is looking for a partner on the project. The two-story brick building, which is next to the Central Fire Station, has been empty for more than a year.

“I hope to find a partner who is already operating a microbrewery and looking to expand,” McLeod said Wednesday in a phone interview. “With the town doing all the renovation with Colby College, I think it’s an ideal time and an ideal place to make this happen. I think the time has come for Waterville to be revamped. Hopefully, I can be part of it.’

McLeod visits Waterville frequently and has attended meetings with those planning the city’s downtown revitalization. He is working with Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist for Central Maine Growth Council, on his plans. Donegan said Wednesday that McLeod is energetic, enthusiastic and determined.

“We’re working with him very closely and I think he’s going to be a wonderful community member,” Donegan said. “He is quite excited about contributing to downtown revitalization.”

Mayor Nick Isgro said Thursday that he has met McLeod and said his plans are a sign of the effects of Colby College’s plans for downtown. The college has bought several buildings and has extensive plans for retail and residential space.


“Having talked to Mark, he is one of the best examples we have of somebody who truly comes from outside of Waterville and has seen what’s going on and has realized the potential of what’s happening right now in our downtown,” Isgro said. “And I think this also reiterates just how far-reaching Colby’s investments are in attracting other investment in the city. There’s a lot of people who are investing right now and if you talk to any of them, what has spurred it is this incredible partnership going on and Colby’s investments.”

City public safety officials said Thursday they hadn’t heard about the project, but said they’d expect issues of parking, traffic and fire codes related to a nightclub and pub to be addressed.


McLeod designs and manufactures his own brand of eyewear, travels all over New England as part of his work and has field representatives in Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, he said. He fell in love with Waterville and its people long ago and had his eye on the Ken-A-Set building. When the price was right, he bought it.

The Ken-A-Set building housed a thrift store for many years that closed in February 2015 and moved to Pittsfield. Run by Skills Inc., of St. Albans, Ken-A-Set is a nonprofit organization that helps adults with intellectual disabilities and other challenges. The Ervin Center day program that was at the site also moved last year to the former Social Security Administration building on Front Street in Waterville.

Built in 1900, the building formerly housed a Studebaker car sales business and at one time had a bowling alley on the second floor. The building has about 8,000 square feet on the first floor, 5,000 square feet on the second and about 7,000 square feet in the basement, according to Donegan.


McLeod said that over the years as he visited Waterville optical shops, he saw the city’s potential. When he learned of the downtown revitalization efforts, he wanted to get involved. He had been keeping an eye on the Ken-A-Set building, which he says is in a great location, with great visibility. He had hoped to buy Poulin Opticians on Main Street, which had been one of his accounts, but someone else bought it before he had a chance.

“That was going to be phase one; phase two was to be the Ken-A-Set building,” he said.

He said he plans to move with his family to the area, his business is growing and expanding, and he also wants to start a construction company in Maine.

“I think it’s an ideal place,” he said, adding that he lives outside Boston and is tired of the daily rush of traffic and harried atmosphere.

“I love that old small-town feel, and you have the lakes region and Sugarloaf,” he said. “I even plan to buy some ski houses. I hope to get a lake house.”



Donegan said he doesn’t see a problem with parking for the project, or its proximity to the fire station. There are parking spaces and space for small truck delivery in the back of the building, and downtown is expected to have a street parking management system in place as part of revitalization, Donegan said.

Officials have been working on a downtown traffic study and are expected to release findings and a plan soon. The goal, Donegan said, is to get people parking in designated spots and walking. The area of the Ken-A-Set building may be seen as the entrance or exit to downtown, depending on how traffic would flow, with Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street the other exit or entrance, he said.

“One of the good things about Waterville’s downtown, which we do discuss often, is scale,” he said. “It’s a great scale, not just to walk, but to effect change. I think when we look at other cities and urban centers and downtown areas, it’s not uncommon to have a fire or police department right next to food or accommodations. Portland has essential city services next to, in some cases abutting, restaurants and bars and retail and commercial.”

Police Chief Joseph Massey said that while the intersection is busy, before he could comment on traffic or vehicle issues as they would relate to the project, he would have to know the project’s full scope, including whether the city makes any changes in traffic patterns. The city has been looking at possibly making Main Street traffic two-way.

Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain said Thursday that he had not heard about McLeod’s plans, but he thinks parking would be a problem and the building would have to have a sprinkler system if more than 100 people were to assemble there, and that would represent a pretty sizable investment.

“I think it’s certainly unexpected to hear that,” LaFountain said of the proposal. “We would do everything we can to help the project, but out of the starting gate, without knowing too much about it, he’s going to have issues with parking and he may have issues with code. Besides that, I’d say, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood.'”


Colby College bought five buildings downtown as part of revitalization efforts, with plans to tear down four starting in the next few weeks. They include the former Levine’s clothing store at 9 Main St.; the former Waterville Hardware buildings at 14-20 Main; and the former Elks building at 13-15 Appleton St., which would be replaced by parking. The former Hains building at 173 Main St. is scheduled to be redeveloped, and the technology firm Collaborative Consulting will occupy the upper floors.

Colby also plans to build housing at the northeast corner of The Concourse downtown. A retail entity would be on the ground floor of that building.

Colby officials are planning to partner with investors to develop various entities downtown including a possible boutique hotel, offices and retail businesses.

Along with Colby’s efforts, others have also made an investment in downtown buildings in the past year or so.

Bill Mitchell, who owns GHM Insurance, bought two historic buildings at 14-24 Common St. a year ago and recently partnered with Last Unicorn owners Fred and Amy Ouellette to open The Proper Pig, a restaurant, in one of the buildings.

Next to the Hains building on Main Street, the former Atkins Printing buildings, at 155-165 Main St., were bought recently by Thomas DePre and his sons, Thomas Jr. and Justin, who are renovating the buildings with plans for retail shops and offices.

Amy Calder — 861-9247


Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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