A view of Water Street July 22 in downtown Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — Erin Moulton remembers the Gardiner of her childhood, when she walked downtown with her mother from their West Street home to shop for whatever their family needed.

“You could actually walk downtown, and you knew everyone,” Moulton said. “They were all your neighbors and you knew about them and you cared about them.”

As she considered what she would like to see in downtown Gardiner over the next decade, Moulton recalled the rich social experiences that the city she once left and later returned to offered to her family and others.

In mid-July, Moulton, 62, was one of dozens of city residents who took part in the Heart of Gardiner workshop, part of the city’s process in drafting a master plan to guide decision making in the city’s downtown for the next decade.

Gardiner city officials, along with Gardiner Main Street, the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and the Gardiner Library Association, collaborated to apply for grant funding through the Coastal Community Grant program, supplemented by revenue from Gardiner’s Downtown TIF District.

To guide that input the Downtown Master Plan Steering Committee, made up of volunteers from across the city, identified three main goals to pursue — developing spaces, streets and a character that distinguishes Gardiner; developing programs, projects and policies that will strengthen downtown Gardiner as a thriving hub of commerce; and developing a vision that enhances the natural assets of the Kennebec River and the Cobbossee corridor while protecting the historic downtown from future floods.

Over the course of several hours, people interested in the process stopped by the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center to see a short video and register their thoughts and ideas about what they’d like to see in the city’s historic downtown.

A view of Water Street July 22 in downtown Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Some ideas were fairly broad, like encouraging a welcoming environment and focusing more on children or outdoor recreation opportunities.

Others were far more specific, including adding a bookstore and lodging to downtown, and limiting the number of marijuana retailers and promoting fish passage on Cobbosseecontee Stream.

Some were focused on esthetics, encouraging screening of the buildings along the Arcade parking lot and adding planters.

With the information collected at the workshop added to the results of a survey that was completed at the end of June, Dubois & King, the consultants hired under the grant, are expected to draft a proposed master plan by October. Their plan is expected to be sent to the Gardiner City Council for review and possible adoption in November.

In the Gardiner of Moulton’s youth, Water Street was home to a wide variety of shops where people could find clothes for the whole family, a bakery and other attractions.

“You had beautiful stores,” she said. “They used to, in the day, have a soda fountain. It was a gathering place for teens and adults to go out and enjoy.”

In the Gardiner of Moulton’s future, Moulton said she’d like to see Gardiner as a destination, with a variety of businesses downtown, a focus on its history and architecture and a stronger link to the Kennebec River.

“I’d love to be able to come downtown and go to my little bakery,” she said.

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