WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 4-1 Tuesday to give initial approval to an agreement that would sell part of The Concourse to Colby College for $300,000 and provide a tax break for the first-floor units, which would be filled with retail stores.

Councilors Lauren Lessing and Winifred Tate both recused themselves from the vote because they work at the college. Councilor Nick Champagne voted against the proposal.

The council must take two votes to finalize the sale and agreement. The final vote is expected to take place at a Feb. 21 council meeting.

Colby plans to use the lot on the northeast corner of The Concourse at 150 Main St. to build a residential complex that would house 200 students and resident assistants or faculty members on the upper floors.

The council voted a year ago to sell the less-than-1-acre site for $300,000 to Colby, on the condition that if the property becomes tax-exempt, the college would make payments in lieu of taxes. At Tuesday night’s meeting, the council voted to amend the original order to delete that condition and allow collection of future property taxes through a tax increment financing, or TIF, district.

Before opening up discussion on the issue, Mayor Nick Isgro provided some background for residents, saying that the only way the multiple projects Colby is working on could come together was if the city created a TIF district. The TIF money gets captured by the city, avoiding county and state school taxes, and a piece of it will go back into the development of the building to make the project more cost-effective. Colby will pay $65,000 annually for 30 years, according to the agreement, he said.

While the building’s upper floors of the building would be tax-exempt, the first floor would have been taxed at about $36,000 per year, according to Brian Clark, vice president of planning for Colby. After the meeting, Clark said the college actually negotiated a value above the $65,000 amount, because it recognizes the need to be “good citizens on Main Street and to Waterville.”

However, Champagne was concerned that the TIF committee had not looked at the proposal yet, and he suggested postponing the vote and the sale of the lot until the panel has looked at it.

About two dozen people attended the meeting, and while some expressed concern about the agreement, others professed to be excited about all the changes coming to the downtown.

Rien Heidt, chairman of the Waterville Democratic City Committee, said he agreed with Champagne and that the council should wait until the TIF committee looks at the agreement.

Businessman Bill Mitchell, however, told the council to get going.

“The real economic opportunity coming down the pike from this investment in the downtown … it’s really going to be from the jobs that come from this,” he said, adding that just the Proper Pig had created 20 jobs. “I think it’s time now. We’ve been debating this issue for a couple years now.”

Colby and Waterville have been working together to revitalize the downtown and attract more people to the area. Colby also has bought the former Hains building, across from the residential complex, to house the offices of the CGI Group; flattened the former Elks Lodge on Appleton Street into a parking lot; and demolished the former Levine’s clothing store building to build a boutique hotel. The total tax revenue for the Colby residence building, the Hains building and hotel will be $120,000 to $145,000, Clark said.

“This is the centerpiece of what we’re doing here,” Clark said.

He added that Colby is trying to take a multi-pronged approach at attracting people to the downtown area.

“It’s not just a dorm sitting on Main Street; it’s a set of things,” he said.

In other business, councilors voted unanimously to approve a request from police Chief Joseph Massey for permission to lease a vehicle from Central Maine Motors. The Police Department would pay for the lease of $198 per month for three years with money from its drug forfeiture account. Massey is assigning a patrol officer to the detective division temporarily due to the high number of criminal cases they have, he said at the meeting, and the department would need another vehicle to accommodate the extra staffing.

The City Council also voted 7-0 to appoint William Layton to the Waterville Public Library board of trustees.

The councilors also unanimously approved a property tax abatement worth $1,411.03 for a disabled person.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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