WATERVILLE — The new $1.5 million RiverWalk at Head of Falls could get a neighboring mixed-use development, if all goes according to plans.

It could be a restaurant, coffee shop, retail entity, office space — whatever a qualifying developer presents to the city that would complement the RiverWalk, green space and parking lot there and be consistent with downtown revitalization efforts.

The city is looking to sell or lease part or all of the 1.5-acre, 65,000-square-foot parcel located between the RiverWalk and newly paved parking lot at Head of Falls. All told, the city owns more than 23 acres on the riverfront.

In about a month, requests for qualifications will be sent out to attract developers interested in submitting a plan.

A special city committee — the Head of Falls Study Committee — has been working to draft the qualifications request that will go to developers for what is being called the Head of Falls River Gateway Project.

The city in 2005 installed $1.1 million in underground water, sewer, electricity and parking infrastructure on the site, which is located in a tax increment financing, or TIF district, which abuts 200 parking spaces.


“I do expect to see some interest. In fact, we have already received some preliminary interest,” said Garvan Donovan, senior economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, who also is a member of the committee working on the riverfront project.

City Manager Michael Roy, also a committee member, said Tuesday that the idea to develop some of the property for multiple uses is an extension of or follow-up to substantial investment the city has made on the site.

“We hope we can get proposals that will complement the RiverWalk, enhance the green space and complement downtown revitalization,” he said. “We’re not looking for a pre-ordained building plan, building size. We’re open to different ideas for this site. We’re going to be very careful about the uses that end up there, because it will be there for a very, very, very long time. We have only one chance to get it right. We need to be careful, thoughtful about how we go about choosing a project for that site.”

The Waterville Planning Board on Monday voted 7-0 to recommend the City Council not rezone the targeted 1.5 acres from Commercial-A to Contract Zoned District/Commercial-A, which would place extra conditions on the property the city wants to sell or lease to a developer.

Board members discussed the idea that the city can place conditions on the property through the sale, making it unnecessary to do that through rezoning.

Donegan said Tuesday that the committee initially requested the rezoning, but over the last couple of weeks discussed the issue and decided not to do so, as any development chosen for the site would have to go before the Planning Board anyway.


Donegan instead took the opportunity Monday to give the board an overview of the project and present preliminary plans.

“We want to really make sure this is an appropriate project for the city, that the Planning Board is on the same page, and we feel it’s a little early to propose a zone change,” Donegan said.

A draft of the committee’s concept design says Waterville is at a unique point in its history, with Colby College and associated partners having pledged $65 million in investments downtown. The city recently completed the RiverWalk, which heralds Waterville’s return to the river, it says.

“We anticipate that a Riverfront Gateway Project will not only enhance our Return to the River but also will serve as a critical component of our downtown revitalization effort,” it says.

The property on the riverfront was developed as an industrial site in the mid- to late 1800s and remained so until urban renewal in the late 1960s, according to the description.

“By 1970, the old Wyandotte mill was gone along with all of the nearby housing. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the city became serious about recognizing the value of this riverfront property. Most of the structures and ancillary items along the Head of Falls were demolished as an effort of the urban renewal project.”


In 2003, the city voluntarily entered into a Voluntary Response Action Plan through the state Department of Environmental Protection to address proper handling of the buried materials on the site, according to the draft.

The city in 1999 invited the community to take part in a comprehensive planning process and chose Coplon Associates, of Bar Harbor, to assist with the development of a riverfront master plan. The report is available on the city’s website, http://www.waterville-me.gov/head-falls-development-studies/.

A gateway plaza was installed near the Two Cent Bridge in 2010. In 2011, major repairs and structural improvements were made to the bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the longest pedestrian toll foot bridge in America, according to the draft. Toll collection has been discontinued.

It says new development at Head of Falls should create jobs through retail, restaurant or office space and residential businesses; help to revitalize downtown by increasing the number of people living, working and shopping in the greater Main Street area; enhance and support recreational use and the use of open, public space at Head of Falls; and recognize the historic importance of the site by increasing opportunities for arts and cultural activities.

Amy Calder — 861-9247


Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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