The Arcade parking lot in front of McKay Park in downtown Gardiner. One of the “Heart of Gardiner” master plan recommendations is reimagining the Arcade parking lot. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

GARDINER — The City Council has adopted the “Heart of Gardiner” master plan that outlines goals for making the downtown an attractive and economically vibrant destination.

While crafting the plan has taken about a year, Wednesday’s vote marks the start of the next phase in the process — putting the plan in place.

“We’ll have to get an implementation plan,” Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said Thursday.

That’s likely to involve assigning an existing or new committee to work on recommending priorities to the City Council.

The Heart of Gardiner plan outlines nine recommendations where city officials can focus their attention and funding to boost the downtown area. Recommendations include making downtown Gardiner accessible to people of all abilities, improving parking and the Arcade lot, connecting Waterfront Park to the trail system, strengthening the identity of downtown Gardiner and developing a network of green stormwater infrastructure.

Each recommendation comes with a series of steps to reach a specific goal along with a suggested timeline and estimated costs along with existing funding opportunities.

Hart said other opportunities for funding may be available through the federal Build Back Better legislation proposed by President Joe Biden. That bill is currently working its way through the federal legislative process. It narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now before the evenly split U.S. Senate, where it faces a tougher battle for approval.

The master plan, she said, provides context for several ongoing projects that city committees are already working on, including plans to improve sidewalks and to build out the Cobbossee Trail — two items highlighted in the plan — and some funding has been secured either through the city’s annual spending plans or through grants.

Colin Frey picks up trash along the banks of the Cobbosseecontee Stream in April 2019 in downtown Gardiner. One of the “Heart of Gardiner” master plan recommendations is reimagining the Arcade parking lot, which sits between Water Street and Cobbosseecontee Stream. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The city is also in the process of redesigning McKay Park, a pocket park on Water Street that links to the Arcade parking lot, which has also been included in the master plan.

“This is really a refresh of a lot of work that’s already been done,” Hart said. “Now we can say we have a more current plan that validates what we have going on.”

The city partnered with Gardiner Main Street, the Gardiner Library Association and the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments to secure a grant through the Coast Community Grants program to pay for the plan.

“It’s an important document to guide us through the city and its budgeting,” said Melissa Lindley, executive director Gardiner Main Street. “And it will be a tool for us for grants or potential investor opportunities.”

One of the plan’s recommendations is reimagining the Arcade parking lot, which sits between Water Street and Cobbosseecontee Stream, and meets a number of the plan’s goals including economic resilience.

In addition to increasing parking that will appeal to both the downtown businesses and their visitors, the plan calls for both short- and long-term projects that will improve the appearance of the back sides of Water Street buildings that overlook the lot and the stream and include green stormwater infrastructure that can slow the rate of runoff into both Cobbosseecontee Stream and the Kennebec River.

The plan has been made during a process that included opportunities for public participation via a survey in the spring and a public input session in July.

A draft of the nearly complete plan was presented for public comment in November.

“These plans are also an invitation to the community members for projects they may want to spearhead,” Hart said. “There’s a lot connected to these plans.”

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