WATERVILLE — Colby College welcomed the public Thursday to its new $25.5 million mixed-use residential complex downtown with speeches, accolades to those who made the building possible and student-led tours of the upper four floors housing more than 200 students, faculty and staff involved in a civic engagement program.

About 350 city officials, state legislators, business people, Colby benefactors, students and staff, as well as area residents, stood outside the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons at 150 Main St. to listen to brief speeches before pouring into the building to mingle, partake of refreshments and tour the site.

Colby President David A. Greene thanked all who made it possible for the building to come to fruition, including Bill and Joan Alfond, who made a gift supporting the effort.

“We could not have had a better partner all along than the Harold Alfond Foundation and the Alfond family,” Greene said.

Greene recalled that four years ago he and a group of city leaders, including City Manager Michael Roy and Mayor Nick Isgro, city councilors, business leaders and others met for several months to think about and discuss the future of Waterville and how to help it thrive. They identified as priorities addressing vacant and dilapidated buildings, drawing more businesses downtown and helping those already there, and drawing more people to live and work downtown. The group developed a plan for launching revitalization efforts and the City Council approved the proposal.

The city and Colby worked together. The residential complex, which has retail as well as meeting space for the city, nonprofit and other groups on the first floor, is now largely complete. Colby bought and renovated the former Waterville Savings Bank across the street at 173 Main St., which now houses Colby offices, CGI Group and Portland Pie Co. The college also plans to build a hotel downtown and develop a center for arts and film in The Center at 93 Main St.

Those developments have spurred other investors to purchase and renovate buildings downtown, jobs have been created and property values are rising, according to Greene.

“We’ve seen a population increase after decades of seeing the population decrease over time,” he said. “People are moving back to Waterville. People are investing in Waterville. This building, we hope, will be another catalyst for extraordinary development here in Waterville.”

Greene said $14 million spent on the new Colby building went into the pockets of businesses and people who work in Waterville and area towns.

Wearing a purple Waterville Panthers cap and blue and white Colby shirt, Bill Alfond, a Waterville native, 1972 Colby graduate and member of the college’s Board of Trustees, welcomed the crowd and asked his wife, Joan, to stand. They attended with their son, former Maine State Senate President Justin Alfond.

“I hope you all share the excitement as we watch our new revitalized Main Street take shape, really, right before our eyes,” Bill Alfond said.

He said he was fortunate to have grown up in Waterville at a time when there were a lot of good jobs and a thriving Main Street. His uncles, Ludy and Pacy Levine, owned and operated the popular Levine’s clothing store on Main Street, and three movie theaters were busy. The original YMCA was close by and Park’s Diner was on the spot where the new Colby building stands now, according to Alfond.

“So, a lot of good memories,” he said.

His parents, Harold and Dorothy “Bibby” Alfond, lived in Waterville, which was his mother’s hometown — she was the Levines’ sister. Waterville also was home to other families, including the Mitchells, whose children attended South Grammar School and played at the Boys Club.

“I learned a great deal from all these kids when I was a student here. I sort of felt the calling of the community and I got involved and I started the Big Brothers Big Sisters program,” he said.

He recalled organizing a Christmas party for the program and seeing the excitement on the face of his “little brother,” a boy named “Sean.”

“That was a moment when I learned how much I would enjoy giving back,” he said.

Bill Alfond later became involved with Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which became a partner to the development of Educare Central Maine, an early childhood education program in Waterville.

Along the way, he learned that a healthy community requires things such as good jobs, profit and nonprofit organizations, a vibrant downtown, restaurants and the arts, as well as health and fitness options and opportunities. It also requires a lot of leaders collaborating to bring critical elements together.

“The most important thing — you learn how to work together — teamwork,” he said.

He said the new Colby building is much more than a beautiful space.

“Students and staff will interact every day with the community and those day-to-day contacts will show you the relationship between the college and the community, now, and hopefully long into the future,” he said.

A COMMUNITY REACTS

Those who turned out for the opening Thursday and toured the new building used words such as “incredible,” “beautiful” and “awesome” to describe it.

The weather held out just long enough for speeches and the ribbon cutting. After the crowd started filtering into the building, a hard rain began to pound the pavement.

Bill Basford, 73, of Waterville, said he was impressed with the building and glad students will be spending time in the downtown, where Basford frequents places such as Selah Tea and Jorgensen’s Cafe.

“It’s the first time I’ve been inside,” said Basford, a retired engineer who now works on energy issues. “I don’t think Colby should ever have left the downtown.”

He was referring to the college’s move from downtown to Mayflower Hill many years ago.

“It was 1933 when the trustees voted to build the new campus on the hill,” he said. “It was 1937 when they started and, of course, they had to take a break for World War II. It was the early 50s when the move was completed.”

A University of Maine graduate, Basford recalled playing trombone in the Colby Symphony Orchestra when he was a high school student. He continues to attend concerts there and has kept abreast of Colby projects, including the new Colby building downtown.

“I was very impressed by the whole construction process, really,” he said. “Paul Ureneck (director of commercial real estate for Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby, who oversees downtown construction) really knows what he’s doing. I was involved in a number of construction projects when I was in the Navy, and this one was much smoother as far as getting things done and not interrupting the neighbors too much.”

Amanda Landry, 22, was floating among the crowd inside the building, greeting people and monitoring activities.

A Colby employee who works as a building general specialist in the mixed-use residential complex, Landry said her duties include custodial work, setting up and taking down events, doing part-time security and being a receptionist. The third generation of her family to work for Colby — her grandmother is an electrician there and her father oversees the ice rink — she said she loves her work and the new building.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Landry, of Norridgewock. “This place is gorgeous. It’s an amazing opportunity for the community and the students to be engaged, and I really think it’s going to make a difference. They put so much heart and soul into it.”

Waterville mayor Isgro, who attended the meetings four years ago with Greene to discuss Waterville’s needs, was at a standing table in The Chace Community Forum on the first floor, where City Council meetings will be held starting in October.

“It’s both humbling and exciting to be here today to see a plan that was drafted and developed about four years ago come to fruition,” Isgro said. “I’m speechless, really. It’s a wonderful day for the city.”

State Reps. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville; John Picchiotti, R-Fairfield; and Thomas R.W. Longstaff, D-Waterville, also were mingling in the Chace Forum. They said they were impressed with the new building and downtown revitalization in general, which promises jobs and economic development.

“It’s just sort of incredible, this level of investment in the city,” Madigan said.

Pichiotti concurred. “It’s phenomenal. They’ve done a really great job.”

INSIDE THE BUILDING

Before touring the apartments — there are 52 four- and six-bedroom student apartments and eight for faculty/staff — Longstaff summed up his thoughts on the development.

“The building is beautiful. It clearly stands out as one of the first steps of the revitalization of downtown, and in it we begin to see that revitalization taking shape,” he said.

Colby senior Helen Chavey led a tour that included a third-floor studio apartment featuring stainless steel appliances, living and sleeping areas overlooking Main Street, and a bathroom. As the group entered, Jordan Troisi, a visiting researcher with the Center for Teaching and Learning who lives in the apartment, was working at a desk. The professor of psychology at Sewanee, The University of the South, in Tennessee, said he loves his space.

“It’s the nicest apartment I’ve ever had,” he said.

Chavey, a government major with a double minor in data science and anthropology, led the group to her fifth-floor apartment overlooking Main Street, where she and three other students live, and then to a glassed-in study lounge at the corner of the building.

Janice Kassman, retired vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Colby, who worked at the college for 38 years, marveled at the facility. She said the vision for what students will do and learn while interacting with the community is “incredible,” as is the building itself.

Chavey was brimming with excitement at the beauty of her new digs and for what her year will look like as she is part of the program.

“I feel super lucky that I get to live here,” she said.

Alleen Thompson, a 1940 Colby graduate, also called the building “incredible,” as she inspected Chavey’s apartment kitchen, as well as a social lounge down the hall whose windows overlook Waterville Public Library.

“I can’t believe this,” she said. “I would think every junior and senior would fight to live here.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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