An artist’s rendering shows the proposed Run of River area located in the Kennebec River gorge in the heart of downtown Skowhegan. Rendering courtesy of John Gutwin/Pepperchrome

SKOWHEGAN — The Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area is among several projects and businesses that will benefit from $410,000 in funding provided by the Somerset County Commissioners.

On Wednesday, the Somerset County Commissioners Tax Increment Financing Committee distributed money from its TIF and Community Fund to businesses and projects throughout the region.

The largest check handed out — $173,000 — was to Main Street Skowhegan, the fiscal sponsor of the Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area. This check is expected to cover the remaining costs of submitting environmental permit applications for the proposed river park to state and federal regulatory agencies.

“I think this was one of, if not the largest allocation all at once out of the TIF funds,” said Christian Savage, executive of Somerset Economic Development Corp. “A lot of other public bodies aren’t as flexible and supportive and I think that we’re fortunate in Somerset County.”

Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, said that if all goes to plan, permitting applications will be submitted sometime in August. Once those are approved and a few other details are handled, construction will begin.

Construction can begin as early as summer 2022 or the following year and should take up to one season to complete, Cannon said.

“Those TIF funds will be used to cover the engineering and architectural costs as well as the permits, so that’s really awesome. It was the next hurdle for us to get over,” Cannon said.

Commissioners said in a statement that Run of River “is a very unique concept.”

“It will bring in outdoor enthusiasts from all over New England to downtown Skowhegan and it will also get people back on the Kennebec River,” the commissioners said. “We feel this will result in new water activities not just in Skowhegan but also northward along the Kennebec which will help our rafting and paddling businesses north of here. We continue to be impressed by Main Street’s commitment and vision of this project and hope this award will help continue the momentum we’re all seeing lately.”

New additions to the project include an access stairway from downtown so that guests can access the park from Water Street; event seating/accommodations so that events can be hosted at the river gorge; and an adjustable wave in the river. When complete, Run of River will have the only adjustable wave in the Kennebec and the northeast, to allow for several different recreational activities, including kayaking and river surfing.

Additionally, the left side of the river will be used as a fish passage.

“It’s taking a while to get through some of this stuff because we have to do our due diligence and make sure that we are meeting all of the requirements but also make sure that we are accommodating for a fish passage and creating some really awesome waves at the same time,” Cannon said. “Once we submit the permit applications in August we’ll be full steam ahead.”

Other recipients on Wednesday included $10,000 to Somerset County Humane Society/Shelter; $65,000 to the Valley Riders Snowmobile Club; $50,000k to Maine Plywood USA, LLC in Bingham; and $100,000 to Bigelow Brewing Company.

The owners of the Skowhegan brewery say that the funding will be used in many ways for the project, including construction. Pam Powers said that right now, the business is waiting to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, which will allow them opportunities to apply for tax credits. Once this is complete, construction at 7 Island Ave. can begin.

In 2019, Jeff and Pam Powers, of Bigelow Brewing, purchased the four-story Solon Manufacturing building with plans to convert it into a larger production space, taproom, residential living spaces and restaurants.

The building was built in 1922 and originally housed Maine Spinning Co., according to information provided by Somerset Economic Development Corp. The major impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the business, like many others, Powers said, is the tremendous increase in construction cost, which she says is up about 300%.

“I don’t think it’s going to stop the project. I’ve talked to Heather Johnson, the commissioner of Economic and Community Development and one of the vice president’s at Hammond Lumber, and they all think that the crisis will eventually come down,” Powers said. “We’re hoping to have our brew house in the first floor by the end of the summer, we’ll see if that happens.”

For the summer, the Bigelow Brewing site at 473 Bigelow Hill Road will host a concert series Friday through Sunday. In partnership with the Maine Blues Society, the brewery is able to host mid-level Blues bands every fourth Sunday. Business hours are 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, 3-8 p.m. on Fridays, noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Bigelow Brewing “continues to impress us all with their great beer and food offerings and really put Somerset County on the map for beer lovers,” commissioners wrote in their statement. “Their success has resulted in the need for more production space as they plan on increasing their brewing capacity 5-fold. Redeveloping the former Solon Manufacturing mill will be a great move for them as well as a wonderful opportunity to attract even more visitors to downtown Skowhegan.”


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