The Augusta Downtown Alliance launched a program this week that’s aimed at welcoming new businesses to the city’s downtown and developing an underused part of the neighborhood.

The Pop-Up Downtown Program is designed to offer low-rate, short-term leases to business owners who are interested in opening or expanding an enterprise in Augusta, particularly on Front Street, which is bordered by the Kennebec River.

“This is going to be a game-changer,” Heather Pouliot, president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said Tuesday.

The program allows property owners to make use of underused parts of their buildings, while giving business owners who want to dip their toe into the Augusta market a low-risk opportunity to test it.

“What we’re looking for is to have existing businesses move to Augusta,” Pouliot said. “We want someone who knows how to run a business and has a record of success.”

If the pop-up business is a success, she said, that business owner might look to make a longer-term commitment to the city.

“We really would like to have a kayak or sporting goods rental place,” she said. “Front Street is a perfect location for that.”

Also on the wish list are boutiques, sweets shops, specialty food and drink items, and locally made goods. And if artists wanted to organize a collaborative gallery space, that’s also an option, she said.

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Authority, said the idea has been in the works for a number of months but started taking shape earlier this winter.

Other riverfront cities have taken advantage their location to bolster commerce and tourism. In Augusta, Front Street has been used mostly for parking for buildings on the eastern side of Water Street.

The completion of the Kennebec River Rail Trail at its starting point north of downtown Augusta last year has meant a greater possibility for both river and foot traffic in downtown Augusta and helps shift attention to the Kennebec.

“We want to turn downtown around toward the river,” Hall said.

In this June 21, 2016, photo, Peter Precourt discusses the temporary art gallery he planned on Water Street in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Their inspiration came in part from Cushnoc Brewing Co., which converted the lowest floor of its Water Street building into a tasting room that opens onto Front Street, Hall said.

Pouliot said last weekend two spaces had been identified for the program, but that’s since grown to four or five.

“As more landlords are hearing about it, they are offering up spaces,” she said.

To be considered, business owners must complete an application and be prepared to provide images or samples of their wares. Business plans are also welcome and will be reviewed only by the program committee. The committee will make its recommendations to the ADA board.

The pop-ups are expected to operate in two sessions. The first is from May 24 to Sept. 2; the deadline for applications is April 30 with notification by May 3.  The second is from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31; that application deadline is Oct. 1 with notification by Oct. 4.

Successful applicants will be required to sign a lease, maintain regular store hours, keep fully stocked inventory and file all required paperwork. In addition, they’ll be asked to help market their businesses.

In addition to this program, Hall said other projects are underway to make Front Street more attractive in the summer, including a new lighting scheme.

“We want people to use Front Street,” Hall said. “We want to bring the concerts back. The movies in the park were a big hit, and we want to do other activities to highlight the area.”

Pouliot said members of the ADA met last year with representatives from restaurants in Portland and southern Maine looking for expansion opportunities.

“We walked around and showed them spots they would fall in love with,” she said. “They’d say they didn’t know about the market. We say if you don’t know, come in, do a three-month trial at lower than market rates and find out.”


Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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