Waterville’s North Street Recreation Area, with the Alfond Youth & Community Center at the top, is shown in a recent aerial view. The City Council is considering plans to move the soccer fields at the lower right to the Pine Ridge Recreation Area. The move would allow for a proposed ice rink to be built there. Photo courtesy of the city of Waterville

WATERVILLE — Most of those who spoke to the City Council on Tuesday about a $1.9 million plan to improve and expand recreation offerings expressed enthusiasm about the proposal, but at least two councilors urged caution when spending taxpayers’ money.

City Manager Steve Daly presented the plan, which calls for moving youth soccer fields from the North Street Recreation Area to Pine Ridge Recreation Area off West River Road and Louise Avenue so the Alfond Youth & Community Center can build a community ice arena where the soccer fields are now. The council did not take a vote Tuesday on the recreation plan and is expected to do so next month.

The Alfond Center initially planned to build the $4 million to $6 million ice arena where the basketball courts are on North Street. The area includes the Alfond Center, municipal pool, playground, tennis courts, soccer fields, community gardens, a streamside walking trail and canoe-kayak launch.

Officials decided, however, to change the ice arena location, partly because of pushback from neighborhood residents who did not want to see the basketball court moved and trees taken down.

The six soccer fields on North Street would be moved to Pine Ridge Recreation Area, which includes Rummel’s Field off Louise Avenue where a dog park, athletic fields and softball field are now located. The dog park would be relocated, although officials say they aren’t sure where yet, the softball field updated, a paved parking area built, new restrooms and concession buildings constructed, and lighting installed.

The plan calls for resurfacing the basketball court on North Street, installing new lights there and expanding the tennis courts. Three-season restrooms, new shade structures and playground equipment also would be installed, and a pathway built from North Street to the trails on Messalonskee Stream. About 2 acres would remain grassy space, according to Daly.


Also as part of the plan, Green Street Park in the city’s South End would get new, contemporary playground equipment, as well as a three-season resting and gathering place.

Daly said the city wants to use tax increment financing funds to pay for the project, with the idea that it would promote economic development. The new soccer fields, ice arena and other amenities will draw people to the city for events such as tournaments and they will spend money in hotels, restaurants and the like, according to Daly and others, including Parks & Recreation Director Matt Skehan.

“We believe that this is going to be a measurable economic development impact,” Daly said.

He said the city hopes to bring the project to fruition in the next two years.

Councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, said when the council talked about the ice arena project last year, the city’s proposed responsibility was to lease land to the Alfond Center for the arena, at $1 a year for 99 years. That cost has now risen from that to $1.9 million, Foss said.

“I’ll leave it right there, but thank you for the information,” he said.


James LaLiberty, an attorney and former Charter Commission co-chairman, stood to say that the cost for the project will not affect residential tax bills.

“He’s correct — it will not hit the residential tax bills,” Daly said.

Jesse Wechsler, president of the Waterville Youth Soccer Association, said that annually, about 700 youths from Waterville and area towns go through the program and the existing facilities are in rough shape, with poor drainage, challenging parking issues and unsafe and unsanitary conditions at both North Street and Pine Ridge. He urged support of the project, saying the recreational program is one of the largest in the area.

“This, of course, to me, is an amazing opportunity for our young athletes,” he said.

But Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said that while he thinks improving recreational facilities is a wonderful thing for the city to do and he is in favor of anything that will help young people, TIF money is still tax funding. A TIF district is a special district where property taxes are sequestered for special things such as housing and economic development, but the money is still taxes and part of the annual city budget, he said. It is not money that magically comes out of nowhere, according to Francke.

“It comes out of taxpayer pockets of the city of Waterville,” he said.


Rien Finch of Friends of Green Street Park said his group is “pleased as punch” that the park is being included in the project. The group has spent two years raising $30,000 for the park, which soon will get eight new pieces of children’s exercise equipment and five pieces for adults, as well as three benches.

Erik Nadeau, a member of both the Alfond Center Board of Directors and that of Central Maine Youth Hockey, said the process for developing an ice rink started two or three years ago when the center was approached by a donor who wanted to support it. Organizers were deliberate in their approach, working with the city on a lease, as well as with Colby College, which donated hockey rink equipment. More than $3 million in donations and in-kind funds have been raised, Nadeau said.

Resident Nancy Sanford said she supports investment in recreation but she thinks it unwise to promise taxpayers their taxes will not increase because of such projects.

“To Claude’s point, TIF money actually is tax money, so I just think that by promising that our taxes won’t go up — and maybe they won’t — but I personally think that that’s an unwise thing to do when trying to promote something,” Sanford said.

Mayor Jay Coelho said taxes can increase, “but it won’t be due to this project.”

“This one’s been vetted pretty well,” he said. “I think we’re on the right course. I think it should be good for us.”

Councilors also voted to amend the marijuana ordinance to reduce the buffer around municipal safe zones from 500 to 400 feet, effective in 21 days. They approved a license for Frank Berenyi to open Marijuanaville, a pot retail shop, at 68 College Ave. That license also will be effective in 21 days. The council also voted to increase fees for this year for Nordic skiing at Quarry Road Recreation Area.

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