WATERVILLE — The downtown is seeing lots of changes, with a hotel being built at the south end of Main Street, a new burrito shop planned for mid-downtown, and a jewelry store having closed and the building it was in sold and slated for renovation.

Beyond that, a new event center, The Elm, will open next month on College Avenue, a new Aspen Dental office is being built on the former Tim Hortons site on upper Main Street, and rumors are circulating that a Hobby Lobby store is planned for the former Kmart space at Elm Plaza.

“The city of Waterville is seeing growth and interest in development at a rate that I’ve not witnessed in my 25-year involvement with the chamber,” said Kimberly N. Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce. “I have been most impressed by the thoughtful intention around place-making as development unfolds. Our city is once again a destination, not just for education and health care, but also for arts, cultural and recreational activities.”

Kevin Joseph stands for a portrait Tuesday at his new restaurant, Guacamole’s on Main Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Kevin Joseph, owner of You Know Whose Pub on The Concourse, plans to open Guacamole’s, a burrito shop, in October at 108 Main St. downtown. Sandwiched between KeyBank and Jewel of India, the shop will be about 80% takeout and feature burritos, tacos, homemade salads, soups, salsas and the like.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Joseph said Tuesday. “I think it’s going to be great for college kids. People have been asking for this kind of eatery.”

The shop will seat about 20 people and be open, initially, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the hours to evolve, he said. Joseph, who has owned The Pub for 19 years, said he expects to employ between five and 10 people.

Larsen’s Jewelry closed Aug. 16. Bill Mitchell, who owns GHM Insurance next door, has plans to renovate the building. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

Meanwhile, Larsen’s Jewelry store at 57 Main St., at the corner of Main and Common streets downtown, closed recently. Two weeks ago, Waterville businessman Bill Mitchell purchased the building it was in. Mitchell also owns several businesses in Waterville, including GHM Insurance Agency, two historic buildings on Common Street downtown and The Elm, a new event center on College Avenue scheduled to open next month.

“Plans for the Larsen’s building include a complete exterior storefront cosmetic renovation, as well as extensive renovations to all three floors of the building,” Mitchell said. “Plan A is to lease the first floor to a commercial business, and the second and third floors as apartments. Plan B is for me to open a business in the first floor and renovate the second and third floors into a combination of apartments and offices. Whichever final plan is executed, the building will get a complete top-to-bottom makeover, enhancing this prestigious corner overlooking Castonguay Square and Main Street.”

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Bill Mitchell

Mitchell is also planning an open house at The Elm,  at 21 College Ave., from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 where there will be live entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and remarks by Lindlof and Brian Clark, vice president of Planning at Colby College. The event is open to the public. Those wanting to attend are asked to RSVP to www.TheElmME.com/OPENHOUSE. The grand opening at The Elm is slated for 7 p.m. Sept. 14 and will feature Satisfaction and The International Rolling Stones Tribute Band, with The Fossils performing the opening act.

Four years ago Mitchell was part of talks led by Colby College President David A. Greene to identify what the downtown needed and plan for ways to help improve it by drawing businesses to it, enhancing arts offerings, strengthening existing businesses and drawing more people to live and work downtown.

With a goal toward renovating and filling vacant and dilapidated buildings and increasing arts and cultural offerings, Colby built a $25 million mixed-use residential complex at 150 Main St. that houses 200 students, faculty and staff who focus on a civic engagement and service curriculum. The Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons houses Camden National Bank, a community meeting space called Chace Community Forum, and retail space on the first floor. The college also is building a 53-room $26 million hotel with restaurant at the south end of Main Street on the former Levine’s clothing store and Camden National Bank lots to be called The Lockwood. Colby renovated the former Waterville Savings Bank building at 173 Main St. with offices and retail space. Portland Pie Co. is located on the first floor.

Colby and Waterville Creates! are raising some $18 million to transform The Center building on Main Street downtown into The Paul J. Schupf Art Center, a center for art and film. Plans are also underway to redesign Castonguay Square downtown.

In addition, North River Co., which owns Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street, bought the two adjacent former Lockwood Mills buildings for $1.5 million and plans to develop them with commercial and retail uses on the first two floors and living spaces on upper floors.

The city late last year received a $37.7 million BUILD grant from the federal government for other projects downtown, including to change the traffic pattern from one-way to two-way and improve intersections and walkways.

“We are beginning to see the results of a focused revitalization strategy and corresponding set of investments paying off for the city of Waterville,” Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning, said in an email. “Colby’s goal from the beginning was to catalyze development and to help create the conditions for long-term economic growth. The pending opening of The Elm and the purchase and plans to renovate the prominent Larsen’s Jewelry building, along with the plans to transform the Lockwood Mills complex to provide much-needed affordable and market-rate housing in the core of the city are further signs of Waterville’s resurgence. With the Lockwood Hotel on schedule to open next October, work continuing on the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, plans progressing for streetscape and transportation improvements supported by the BUILD grant, and a series of facade improvements along Main Street, a revitalized and vibrant downtown Waterville is coming into view.

A call placed Monday to Aspen Dental’s corporate office was not returned, but Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development for the Central Maine Growth Council, said he is pleased Aspen will be redeveloping and occupying the now vacant former Tim Hortons building on upper Main Street.

“The site is visible, exhibits very high annual average daily traffic, is located next to the I-95 traffic corridor, and enjoys proximity to other major businesses and institutions,” Donegan said. “Additionally, the site and surrounding parcels will soon be able to benefit from natural gas infrastructure. Summit Natural Gas plans to extend gas from across the road.”

Donegan said that generally speaking, Waterville has seen business expansion and growth in industries including health care and education, professional business services, information technology, manufacturing, logistics and transportation, and food service and accommodations.

“We are currently working with active business leads to come into the downtown, the city of Waterville, and the region,” he said. “However, of course, I cannot discuss projects that have not been finalized. I expect a busy fall.”

Elaine Theriault-Currier, development coordinator for the Growth Council, said that from August 2018 through July 2019, the downtown Waterville Wi-Fi served 240,069 user sessions.

“We’re quite impressed with the usage and interpret the data as a reflection of strong consumer demand and the categorization of wireless internet as an essential component of municipal infrastructure,” she said.

That wireless internet service, available only outdoors downtown, was installed a year ago through an initiative of the Growth Council working with Colby, which provided startup costs, according to Lindlof, who also is executive director of the Growth Council. The Council maintains and supports the service.

The Growth Council also helped develop and implement a facade program expected to stimulate more than $325,000 in direct investment in downtown storefronts and facades this year.

A request for comment from Hobby Lobby was not returned. Other new businesses have opened in Waterville recently, including the Lion’s Den Tavern at 74 Main St. downtown, in the former Itali-ah restaurant space next to Holy Cannoli, and the restaurant Me Lon Togo Bistro farther north at 220 Main St.

 

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