OAKLAND — During the town’s first public workshop Thursday evening, which is part of the process of drafting a new comprehensive plan, residents identified the need to revitalize the downtown with more dining and cultural offerings as a way to create a more prosperous Oakland.

The group named Oakland’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats through an analysis conducted by Garvan Donegan and Elaine Theriault, who, respectively, hold positions of senior economic development specialist and development coordinator at the Central Maine Growth Council. Donegan and Theriault are working as planning staff members in conjunction with the town’s comprehensive planning committee during what they expect to be a two-year drafting process.

A comprehensive plan is typically a review of a municipality’s history, an evaluation of its current status and an outline for its future. This analysis, as well as several other workshops and a communitywide survey, will help the committee describe Oakland’s assets in terms of natural resources, housing, economy, infrastructure, transportation, recreation and public spaces and community facilities, and provides recommendations for how to improve those components.

Together the residents listed its school system, a well-run municipal government and public access to the town’s water bodies as the town’s greatest strengths.

But as they discussed the town’s weaknesses, opportunities and what in the future could pose a threat, the group consistently focused on the lack of restaurant, shopping and cultural draws in the downtown area.

“When looking for a place to go to dinner, you have to go out of town, and I always thought that was crazy,” said Town Councilor Bob Nutting, who chairs the comprehensive planning committee.

Others added that there are only two sit-down restaurants in the Main Street area, Early Bird and Oakland House of Pizza. Additionally, they said most of the spaces downtown are offices rather than shops that might not only draw more people, but also entice them to spend more time downtown.

Donegan asked what types of places the group thought might be a kind of anchor to attract both Oakland residents as well as students from Colby and Thomas colleges.

Some of those answers included a farmers market, ice cream store, a coffee shop, a diverse offering of restaurants, senior housing and more local grocery options.

Additionally, residents said bike and walking paths, park space and a local youth center would be assets that would be attractive additions to the area.

Culture and entertainment were also areas in which the residents said the town could grow. The town recently kicked off a weekly summer concert series at the waterfront park on Thursday evenings, which the group noted was a good start in this process.

Donegan said these were all good, nuanced ideas that will help the committee in drafting the comprehensive plan.

More workshops will be held throughout the summer and a public survey is available online and will be mailed to residents’ homes.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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