WATERVILLE — Downtown revitalization efforts are ramping up on Main Street, with construction of a high-end boutique hotel expected to start soon at the former Levine’s store site, $5 million in renovation work progressing in the former Hains building and requests being sent out to developers to identify uses for the former Waterville Hardware site.

Colby College, which is working to infuse millions of dollars in investments downtown, has signed a contract with The Olympia Companies of Portland to build and manage the hotel, which will be owned by Colby.

“They have done a lot of hotel development and management, including the Brunswick Hotel & Tavern,” said Kate Carlisle, Colby’s communications director. “They have done hotels that are at or near college campuses, for example, Rollins College in Water Park, Florida. They will build it, and they will manage it.”

Olympia officials will choose an architect for the hotel with input from Colby, which has developed a limited liability company for the hotel ownership called Elm City 9, according to Carlisle. Olympia hotels include the Inn By the Sea in Cape Elizabeth; Hampton Inn, South Portland; Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Portland and Holiday Inn in Bangor.

Workers are going great guns renovating the former Hains building at 173 Main St., owned by Elm City 173, a limited liability company Colby created. The $5 million project to renovate the building is expected to be completed in just a few months, according to Carlisle.

“By this summer there will be people working in there,” she said.

The Waterville Hardware block of buildings at 14-20 Main St. across from where the former Levine’s clothing store was torn down late last year also is targeted for development, and officials are working to identify new uses for that lot.

“Very soon we’re going to put out requests for proposals in the development community — what would you do with this?” Carlisle said. “That’s stuff that’s all going to be happening this spring.”

Revitalization efforts started after Colby College President David Greene last year led meetings with city officials, businesses, arts organizations and downtown advocates to discuss ways to help revitalize downtown, draw more people to live and work there, enhance arts and cultural offerings and help boost the economy.

The city continues to negotiate the sale of the northeast corner of The Concourse downtown to Colby, which plans to build a student residential complex there. City Manager Michael Roy says the city is making progress in its discussions with Colby on final terms of the sale.

“The city staff, mayor and I still need to have conversations with the City Council, but I think we’re getting very close to that point,” Roy said. “I would hope that within a month that (sale) would be completed.”

City councilors last year voted to approve selling The Concourse lot for $300,000, but continue to work on details.

“There’s more involved than just the $300,000. There are other pieces to it that we need to finally conclude,” Roy said.

City officials have talked about the possibility of leasing to Colby the city-owned parking lot on the south end of Front Street across the street from where the hotel will be built so the lot may be used for hotel parking, according to Roy.

“That’s been part of our discussions with Colby, even though it’s separate from The Concourse lot,” he said. “Colby has been talking to the city about the use of the Front Street lot. Of course, no commitments have been made by the city. It’s under discussion. We haven’t had a chance to talk to the City Council.”

Roy said he thinks that if the city were to decide to lease the lot to Colby, it would be “leasing of a long-term nature, but I don’t think we would have plans to sell.”

Mayor Nick Isgro said revitalization efforts are materializing in exciting ways and he is “extremely optimistic.”

“A lot of people had their doubts over the past year, and now there are things people can put their eyes and hands on that are going to be tangible,” Isgro said. “This is for real. This isn’t just meetings and luncheons. This is a ground-breaking, shovels-in-the dirt. Things are happening. I think things are progressing just like we had hoped.”

Colby plans to build a curriculum specifically for students and staff who will live in the residential complex — a program that will focus on community service. The ground floor of the building will be retail, the nature of which has not yet been identified.

HOTEL, STORE LEGACY

While a project cost has not been set for the hotel, which officials hope will be ready for occupancy in 2018, it will have 42 rooms, a bar that will seat up to about 20 people and a restaurant, according to Carlisle. The hotel’s entrance will be off Main Street, and the public will be able to patronize both the bar and restaurant.

The future hotel has not yet been named, and Colby plans to ensure that the Levine legacy is incorporated in the building.

“Our hope is to be cognizant and mindful of the important role the Levine’s store played in the lives of people in Waterville,” Carlisle said. “There’ll be recognition of that important relationship in the hotel.”

Many years ago, The Crescent Hotel was on that end of Main Street, and it was the first building motorists saw as they entered the downtown from the south.

The Levine’s store was founded in 1891 by 26-year-old William Levine, a Russian immigrant. He arrived in the U.S. in 1886, five years before he founded the business that would become known as “the store for men and boys.” He started peddling clothes from a pack on his back in New York City and then walked to Boston where he met his wife-to-be, Sara, and they married in 1889. They traveled north to Portland, Augusta and Waterville. Before opening his first store, William drove a horse-drawn wagon to places such as Monson, Strong and Kingfield to sell his clothing. He bought a clothing store owned by Charles E. Lessard in the former hotel block on the corner of Main and Ticonic streets in Waterville and later moved to the site of the former Ward Bros. store at 91 Main St.

The store moved to lower downtown Main Street after the turn of the century, and in about 1929, the Levines doubled the size of the store after buying adjacent property. The Levines had eight children, including Lewis and Percy, who would later get the nicknames Ludy and Pacy, and they would take over ownership of the store.

Both were Colby graduates and they loved the college, attending football games and other Colby events into old age. Pacy died in 1996 at age 91. Ludy died in 1997 at age 98.

Their sister, Dorothy, was married to Harold Alfond and the couple built a philanthropic empire whose foundation joined Colby last year in pledging $20 million to boost downtown revitalization efforts.

HAINS DEVELOPMENT

The former Hains Building at 173 Main St. was one of five buildings Colby bought last year with plans to either raze them or partner with investors to develop the buildings. Levine’s and the former Elks Building on Appleton Street, which Colby also purchased, were demolished, with the Appleton site being turned into a parking lot.

CGI Group Inc., a multi-billion dollar global leader in information technology and business processing services based in Montreal, Quebec, last year bought the technology business Collaborative Consulting and plans to lease part of the former Hains Building starting in the summer.

CGI now has employees working temporarily in The Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street. When Collaborative opened a satellite office in Waterville after being courted by state and local officials as well as Greene, the Colby president, company officials said they hoped to employ about 200 people downtown within the next few years.

Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist with Central Maine Growth Council, says the council and its partners have been working with CGI, which is “firmly committed to the vision for downtown revitalization in the City of Waterville.”

“CGI now looks to continue and increase the growth rate in Waterville, whereby it projects hiring 300 to 400 high-tech employees in the coming years with many CGI employees living, working and playing in downtown Waterville,” Donegan said.

As with the residential complex to be built on The Concourse, the ground floor of the former Hains Building will house a retail use yet to be identified.

Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate for Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby, was at the site Friday.

“It is very exciting to be moving from the initial planning stages into actual revitalization work at 173 Main St.,” Ureneck said. “This building, originally constructed in 1902 as Waterville Savings Bank, has many wonderful architectural features that we hope to bring back to life. Waterville has a glorious past, and I feel privileged to be part of the downtown’s renaissance.”

Roy, the city manager, said that for the first time in 12 years, he saw lights on in the building last week as he traveled from home to work each morning.

“It has been such an inspirational thing to see,” he said. “I felt the same way I did when I saw lights on in the Hathaway building many years ago.”

He said the city had previously identified the former Hains building as a liability on Main Street. “And here it is being renovated at a very, very substantial cost … we have to be grateful that someone is taking the risk in rehabbing it.”

During renovations of the four-story building, historic features will be retained as much as possible, according to Carlisle.

“This building is so historic and it’s so beautiful,” she said. “The back room is the old board room with a fireplace and mosaic floor. We’re going to keep as many period details as we can.”

Windows and frames, for instance, will be removed, repaired and returned to their original housing.

An addition will be constructed on the back of the building to house an elevator, and a grade-level entrance to the building will be on that back wall as well, according to Carlisle. During a recent tour of the main floor, Carlisle pointed to the board room fireplace and mosaic floors, brick walls, high ceilings and original wainscoting.

After Colby started buying up vacant and deteriorating buildings, others followed suit.

NICE BUILDINGS

Bill Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance Agency on Main Street, bought two historic buildings on Common Street that have undergone renovation. Last year, Mitchell, partnering with the owners of The Last Unicorn, Amy and Fred Ouellette, opened The Proper Pig, a restaurant, in one of the buildings.

Colby alumnus Justin DePre and his wife, Palmer, as well as DePre’s father, Thomas, and brother Tom bought two buildings adjacent to the former Hains Building on Main Street, removed the facades to expose the historic features of those buildings and are talking with potential tenants.

“We’re in the planning phase at the moment, and we’re looking into all different options and ideas about what we want to do,” Justin DePre said Friday. “We like to promise short and deliver long. We’ve spoken to many different contractors and architects and are looking at multi-million renovations for both of the buildings. That’s what they will require.”

The buildings at 165 and 155 Main St. formerly housed Atkins Printing Co, with the main entrance to Atkins at the 155 site. Berry’s Stationers currently leases space at 155. The building at 165 Main St. has three stories and a basement and 155 has two floors and a basement.

“We want to make the buildings first-rate, really nice buildings,” Justin DePre said.

As with the dormitory building and Hains, the first floors of the DePres’ buildings will house retail and that is where construction will start, according to Justin and Tom DePre.

The block encompassing the Hains and DePre buildings is part of the Waterville Downtown Historic District, which enables them to be eligible for historic tax credits.

The DePres said the basement of the buildings formerly housed light industrial uses, so they are looking at potential ideas to reinvest in a business that would produce similar products.

“We’re looking into different options for that,” Tom DePre said.

Meanwhile, Roy says he plans to convene a working group in early February to start talking about parking in light of the fact that the student residential complex will be built on part of The Concourse. He expects people in the group will include Waterville Public Library officials and people from businesses in the area including Yardgoods, The Villager, Selah Tea, Care & Comfort and other area businesses.

“We don’t have any magic solutions, but we need to start talking about strategies,” he said. “I’m hoping that anyone concerned, interested, will contact me about wanting to be involved in the discussion about parking.”

The city recently received the results of a traffic study done by consultant Gorrill Palmer of Portland that presents options for returning Main and Front streets downtown to two-way traffic as they were many years ago. As part of the concept, Front Street would be used more for traffic wanting to pass through town quickly. The idea of having two-way traffic on Main Street is to try to make it more attractive, inviting and safer for shoppers, diners and recreational visitors.

Donegan, of the Central Maine Growth Council, said he and council partners are encouraged to see retail of various scales seeking sites and locations in Waterville’s downtown.

The growth council is working with the owner of Mainely Brews, who recently purchased Post Office Square, on planning and design for undergoing improvements, upgrades and exciting new uses above Mainely Brews, according to Donegan. The council also is working with the DePres, he said.

“Hathaway remains a key strategic asset for Waterville and the downtown,” Donegan said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17