HALLOWELL — With Water Street reconstruction coming up in April, community leaders are looking to the public for creative ways to keep spirits high and keep people coming to the city during the construction period.

“We are actively seeking solutions that will minimize the effect on our local economy and public safety,” City Manager Nate Rudy said.

The Hallowell Area Board of Trade and Hallowell Arts and Cultural Committee are hosting a meeting Thursday where people can “brainstorm ways to welcome next year’s roadwork project Hallowell style.” The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Auditorium.

Rudy said some business owners are concerned that the reconstruction of an approximately 2,000-foot stretch of the busy corridor will decrease vehicle traffic and visits to Hallowell. Deb Fahy, chairwoman of the arts and cultural committee, said everyone was scared when they heard about the project.

“We all thought using the arts and the creative people in Hallowell was a great way to approach this,” she said. “Why not make the best of it, have fun with it and get through it together?”

Fahy said they have a “couple of pages” of ideas, but the committee wants to engage the greater community and get buy-in from all different people and other groups.

“This is a real opportunity for community building, and we hope Hallowell will come out on the other side of this as a stronger community,” she said.

Thursday’s meeting will be led by Nancy Smith, from GrowSmart Maine. Her office is in Gardiner, a sister city to Hallowell that has had success in recent years with its Main Street program, Rudy said. Hallowell may “steal some ideas from their playbook,” added Rudy, who worked as Gardiner’s director of economic and community development for more than three years.

The working group has identified art, culture, theater, music, poetry and other attractions, and Rudy has suggested a street-busking festival where musicians could play out in the open on sidewalk and street corners and in downtown storefronts.

Another popular idea, mentioned by Board of Trade president Chris Vallee, would be to invite Maine Department of Transportation officials, contractors and construction workers to join the public in painting Water Street in the days before the road is torn up as part of the project.

“At the next (meeting), we’ll get all the ideas scheduled and hopefully get people to volunteer to be a part of them,” Fahy said. She wants events to happen throughout the entire construction period, ideally every week.

“This needs to be collaborative, and we want to support each other instead of just doing things as different groups,” she said.

Rudy said the nearly $5 million project presents an immediate challenge for downtown property and business owners, and it will have other effects on properties in the surrounding neighborhoods including City Hall, the public works building and the Second Street fire station.

“My hope is that we turn this somewhat scary, but necessary and exciting, downtown transformation into the first step toward a coordinated community economic development plan for the historic downtown district and the other business districts along Water Street,” he said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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