Bill Mitchell stands Friday in the entryway to his newly renovated property at the corner of Common and Main streets in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Businessman Bill Mitchell is again investing in downtown as part of revitalization efforts, this time renovating a historic building at the corner of Main and Common streets that formerly was home to Larsen’s Jewelry.

The three-story building at 57 Main St. that Mitchell bought in 2019 will house Elm City Nutrition on the ground floor in the former jewelry store space on or near April 1. The upper two floors feature a high-end apartment on each floor. The nutrition shop, owned by Anna Curtis, will offer healthful smoothies, teas and related offerings.

“I think it’s going to be a great addition for downtown, and it’s a perfect location for that type of business,” Mitchell said Friday. “We’re very excited to have that downtown, and I think it’s going to be received really well as we get into spring and summer. I’m optimistic she will be really successful in her endeavor.”

Mitchell bought the building in 2019 at the same time the jewelry store closed, and he launched an extensive top-to-bottom renovation. He remembers that, when he was a child during the holidays, a speaker on a balcony of the building would play Christmas music.

“It’s a landmark building in our downtown, and it deserves to be brought back,” he said. “I’m really, really excited to be part of that.”

As part of renovations, workers removed the facade, exposing a sign that says “A Wolman.” Arlington Wolman built the building in 1912 after the previous building on the site, known as the Krutzky Block, was destroyed by fire in 1911, according to Mitchell. Wolman opened a smoke shop on the ground floor that sold tobacco, peppermints and gum — a combination that was common in smoke shops and served to mask the odor of smoke after patrons used tobacco, Mitchell said.

He plans to name the structure “The Wolman Building,” he said.

Mitchell owns GHM Insurance Agency next door to the building on Main Street, as well as two buildings on Common Street, including the former Masonic Building, which he purchased in 2015 after Colby College and the city announced the downtown revitalization effort. Mitchell renovated the buildings into offices and businesses, including The Proper Pig restaurant, which he co-owns. Mitchell owns the entire block with the exception of Al Hodsdon’s building, 10 Common St., at the corner of Front Street.

Mitchell recently placed a bronze plaque on his insurance building in memory of his late father, Paul, who also owned GHM and was a real estate developer who headed up the Urban Renewal Project in the 1960s and ’70s. Mitchell plans to erect similar plaques on The Wolman Building in honor of Arlington Wolman, as well as on his two Common Street buildings, to honor the previous owner, Michael Nawfel, who practiced dentistry for many years there.

“I just think it’s a nice touch,” Mitchell said. “These guys were icons in their day. I look at Mr. Wolman, a real entrepreneur, an icon in Waterville in his day. I’ll be naming those two buildings on Common to Dr. Nawfel. He should be remembered, I think. To the extent I’m able to bring some of that recognition back for those great people that did good things in downtown in their day, I think they deserve it.”

Mitchell was part of meetings in 2014 headed up by Colby President David Greene and businesspeople, city officials, arts advocates and representatives of nonprofit organizations to begin downtown revitalization efforts. They determined that in order to have a vibrant downtown, people must be living and working there. Vacant and dilapidated buildings needed to be addressed and the arts supported and strengthened, they said.

Colby has since invested millions of dollars in downtown, building a hotel and residential complex on Main Street, renovating a building for office and retail space at the corner of Main and Appleton streets, and another on Main Street for an arts collaborative. Work on the future Paul J. Schupf Art Center is scheduled to begin this year on Main Street.

The idea was that with Colby’s investments, other investors would follow suit. Mitchell was one of the first to do so.

“You start to see more and more people acquiring and redeveloping and occupying buildings with small businesses and residential and it takes on a life of its own,” Mitchell said. “The impact of the revitalization really starts to shift the economics so that it is able to self-sustain.”

Mitchell commended Greene for following through on a vision, and the Alfond family and foundations for investing heavily in the downtown and elsewhere.

“I have a very high regard for David Greene,” Mitchell said. “He not only was a visionary and could articulate that vision very clearly and effectively, but the real kicker with David is that he then knows how to execute the plan. Execution is really hard and David’s really good at it. From the very first meetings that we had, look at what he’s accomplished in the downtown. It’s incredible how effectively he executed the plan.”

Mayor Jay Coelho commended Mitchell Friday for his revitalization efforts.

“I think Billy’s been a great person to have in Waterville,” Coelho said. “He’s someone who cares about the city. He’s been involved. He’s definitely a community leader, and we need more people like Bill to step up.”

Likewise, Kimberly N. Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, said Mitchell’s efforts at developing properties, particularly housing, is needed and most welcome at a time when the city needs it.

“One of the best things about finding out that Bill Mitchell is doing a project is that you know it’s going to be a marked improvement over what is there now,” Lindlof said. “He’s going to do it right and the outcome is going to be really fantastic. He’s done a nice job with the projects he takes on.”

FOR THE LOVE OF WATERVILLE

Mitchell learned a lot from his father about how to develop a plan and see it to fruition. Paul Mitchell oversaw a massive redevelopment effort, the Urban Renewal Project, in Waterville some 50 years ago, while Bill Mitchell was growing up. The elder Mitchell also worked in real estate development, in addition to insurance.

As part of Urban Renewal, dilapidated buildings along Charles Street, which ran through what is now The Concourse in the heart of the city, were razed, as were those on the riverbank off Front Street known as Head of Falls. Paul Mitchell also helped to attract Zayre department store to The Concourse when such large stores were coming into fashion. Cottle’s grocery store moved from Main Street to The Concourse.

As part of Urban Renewal work, Paul Mitchell was instrumental in rerouting millions of gallons of storm water and snow melt so it went directly to the Kennebec River instead of going through sewer lines to the processing plant, saving the city millions of dollars in sewer fees, according to Bill Mitchell.

“As a boy, I saw my father doing that type of work, and it was always of great interest to me to help understand the process,” Mitchell, now 59, said. “My father worked in real estate development. It’s sort of in my DNA a little bit, and I enjoy the real estate development part of my work.”

Mitchell owns and manages 18 properties and 25 buildings in Waterville, including The Elm at 21 College Ave. which he transformed from a former American Legion hall into an event center. He owns Penny Hill Park, a professional office complex at 295 Kennedy Memorial Drive, as well as KMD Plaza across the avenue, which houses Dairy Queen, Verizon, Enterprise and Seacoast Security.

He owns three buildings at 220-224 Main St., just south of Kennebec Savings Bank, and is currently doing renovations to 220 Main.

“I can’t yet disclose what it is, but a lease has been signed for a new small business that is opening up by early summer,” Mitchell said.

Last year, he purchased and is renovating former First Baptist Church properties at 3 and 5 Park St. The building at 3 Park is a duplex which is occupied by tenants and the larger building at 5 Park, which features large windows, traditional crown molding and fireplaces, is being renovated into two large apartments.

“Between the 57 Main St. and Park Street properties, we’ve been very busy with renovations and are bringing both of those properties back to the grandeur they once had,” he said.

He said he is committed and looking forward to renovating and restoring buildings downtown for the overall good of revitalization.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I was born in Waterville and raised in Waterville and went to school here. I have very, very deep roots here. My family has very deep roots in this community.”

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