WATERVILLE — Paul Ureneck has been working on commercial real estate development projects for more than 40 years and has never seen the likes of what is occurring in downtown Waterville.

Indeed, he said, other areas of the state are looking toward the city and its collaboration with Colby College in revitalizing the heart of Waterville as a model for such  efforts.

Paul Ureneck, who heads up the development of Colby College’s projects in downtown Waterville, worked for 30 years as a real estate developer for The Boulos Co. before coming to Waterville. The ongoing revitalization of Waterville is like nothing he has seen, he told a business breakfast audience Thursday at Thomas College.

Ureneck, who oversees Colby’s projects downtown, spoke Thursday morning to about 60 people at a business breakfast at Thomas College, hosted by Thomas and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

The director of commercial real estate for Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby, Ureneck said Colby’s investment in Waterville’s downtown will be between $90 million and $100 million dollars, not including the millions other people have invested or plan to invest in the downtown by buying and redeveloping buildings.

While Colby has been a key participant in revitalization, it is one of more than 40 institutions and organizations that have worked together on the effort, which Ureneck called “wide-ranging.”

“This isn’t just a Colby venture,” he said.

Colby President David Greene a few years ago brought city officials, businesspeople, arts advocates and others together to talk about what Waterville needed to grow and thrive.

Through several meetings, they identified a need to address vacant and dilapidated buildings downtown, support existing businesses and help create new ones, bring more people to live and work downtown and enhance arts and cultural offerings.

Colby saw itself as a catalyst to development, but investors were key, according to Ureneck. Businesses, private investors and the city have worked hard to further the city’s renaissance, he said. The Harold Alfond Foundation and other philanthropists, Central Maine Growth Council, Waterville Creates!, the Chamber, Thomas, civic organizations and other entities are also part of the effort.

“In no way did we ever think this was about Colby investing money and creating this panacea,” Ureneck said. “We were willing to be the loss leaders in this.”

He acknowledged that Thursday’s audience included many of those who have contributed to revitalization and described his talk as “preaching to the choir.”

Before coming to Waterville nearly four years ago, Ureneck worked for 30 years as senior vice president of project management for The Boulos Co., the largest commercial real estate development, brokerage and management firm in northern New England. He has managed and transformed about 4 million square feet in several complex manufacturing, office, medical, retail and office real estate development projects.

Ureneck told Thursday’s audience he lived in Portland for more than 40 years before moving to Waterville. As part of his job back then, he would drive north on Interstate 95, passing the Waterville exits to travel to projects in Bangor or along the coast.

“When I came to this area,” he said, “I was amazed at the amount of art and recreation that really goes on in central Maine. It blew me away.”

He said he thinks central Maine does more than just compete with southern Maine.

“I think we’re better at it than they are,” he said.

Construction is ongoing at The Lockwood Hotel in downtown Waterville.

DOWNTOWN INVESTMENTS

Ureneck used a slide show to highlight downtown Waterville development projects, including the $26 million Lockwood Hotel that Colby is building at the south end of Main Street. The hotel is scheduled to open in October.

He noted that as traffic comes off the Ticonic Bridge from Winslow into Waterville, it is prohibited from turning into the downtown, but that will change when the city’s $7.37 million federal BUILD grant efforts are in place and downtown has two-way traffic as it did many years ago. That grant also will enable the city to improve intersections and sidewalks, redesign Castonguay Square next to City Hall, and make way for a pedestrian-friendly, walkable downtown, according to Ureneck.

Colby, the city and the Maine Department of Transportation are partners in the project, with the federal government financing 80%, he said. Colby is financing 20%, while the city is providing staffing and engineering help.

By Sept. 15 of this year, the BUILD grant plans must be ready, Ureneck said.

“By that date, the plans need to be complete and they have to be out on the street for pricing,” he said, adding he thinks the work will start in the spring of 2021.

The Kennebec Water District this spring will start replacing a water main downtown, prior to the BUILD grant work.

A multimillion-dollar project to transform The Center downtown into the Paul J. Schupf Art Center for art and film is expected to begin this year, according to Ureneck.

“This is a building that we are pretty much at the end of concept design,” he said. “This is really going to transform, I think, the center of Main Street.”

Common Street Arts and a box office will be on the ground floor, where, inside the side entrance off Castonguay Square, will be gallery of contemporary art. Cinemas will be on the second floor. A new walkway connector will be built between the center and City Hall.

“The connector will allow for the Opera House to be truly handicapped accessible,” Ureneck said. “We’re very excited about this project. With any luck and if things go well, we hope to be in the ground this summer on this project.”

He cited Waterville as a culinary destination, with more than 30 restaurants and food-related shops. Colby renovated 173 Main St., where Portland Pie Co. has opened on the ground floor and Bixby & Co., a chocolate cafe, will also open on that floor this year. Colby offices are on the second floor, technology group CGI is on the third floor and incubators for entrepreneurs are on the top floor. The Lockwood Hotel will also have a restaurant called “Front & Main.”

A rendering of the bar planned for the restaurant Front & Main at The Lockwood Hotel, now under construction in downtown Waterville.

“That restaurant will have a completely separate entrance,” Ureneck said. “It is important to us that the community think of that as a family restaurant.”

Colby’s $25.5 million Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons at 150 Main St. houses 200 students, faculty and staff on upper floors and Camden National Bank on the first floor. The Chace Community Forum, where City Council and Planning Board meetings are held, also is on the first floor and used for nonprofit organization meetings, Ureneck said. Portland restaurateurs Andrew and Briana Volk are also planning to open Verna’s All Day, a restaurant, sandwich shop and market, on the ground floor.

Ureneck said each student living in the building must be involved in civic engagement and perform community service and tie that into their studies. Thirty students are doing work at the Waterville Public Library. Last year, students contributed 27,000 hours of work in the community at places such as the Fire Department and Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, according to Ureneck.

The interior of a model room at The Lockwood Hotel, now under construction in downtown Waterville.

He cited a facade improvement grant program downtown that started with $50,000 or $60,000 and resulted in a total of $300,000 in direct investments by business owners. Another such program is in the works, according to Ureneck.

Ureneck said several people have made significant investments in downtown. They include Bill Mitchell, who bought and renovated the former American Legion hall on College Avenue and transformed it into The Elm, an event center. Mitchell, owner of GHM Agency, also bought two historic downtown buildings on Common Street and redeveloped them.

The Depre family also purchased two buildings next to 173 Main St. and is working through a design, and Tom Nale Jr. and his sister Tracy have purchased two buildings farther south on Main Street in the so-called “Arnold Block.”

“It’s wonderful when you see local people coming in and making those purchases,” Ureneck said.

Matt Hancock plans to redevelop a building at the corner of Temple and Main street that once housed a Subway sandwich shop and is completing a design, according to Ureneck.

Such redevelopment efforts have spread beyond the downtown, according to Ureneck. Farther north in the city, the Children’s Discovery Museum has plans to buy the First Congregational United Church of Christ building on Eustis Parkway, and Me Lon Togo, a restaurant that serves west African cuisine, opened just north of downtown on Main Street.

To the south, two former Lockwood mill buildings north of the Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street are slated to be redeveloped by North River Co. into workforce and market rate apartments and commercial and retail space.

“Waterville is lucky to have this development team coming into this project,” Ureneck said. “These guys know what they’re doing. They’ve done it before. This will be a successful project.”

He said Colby has plans for the former Waterville Hardware building, which is actually two buildings that share a wall, across Main Street from the Lockwood Hotel.

“More to come on that a little later, but not today,” he said.

Bruce White, a state representative and member of the Waterville Planning Board, said many people do not realize how much money Colby pays in taxes on its properties downtown.

Ureneck said he did not have that amount at hand, but the 173 Main St. property alone generates more than $30,000 a year in taxes.

“What I can tell you is that every property that Colby has purchased — we have not asked for any TIF (tax increment financing) money on those,” he said, “and we are paying the full tax rate on all those properties.”


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