This Tuesday photo shows 152 and 154 Water St. in Hallowell. Hallowell Holdings, which owns the property, is one of two applicants from Hallowell for the State of Maine Community Development Block Grant Program 2022 Community Enterprise Grant Program. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

HALLOWELL — Residents showed strong support for two grant applications that would improve the exteriors of several downtown buildings during a public hearing on Monday.

One would help the Capital Area New Mainers Project renovate the exterior of a former church it acquired on Union Street and protect it from the elements. The other would repair the roof of a vacated storefront at 152 and 154 Water St., recently purchased by Hallowell Holdings, which owns the nearby marijuana dispensary The Frost Factory.

Both groups requested $25,000, the maximum amount available from a Community Development Block Grant. They will need the approval of Hallowell’s Town Council and the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development before any money can be spent.

The Capital Area New Mainers Project was formed as a response to the growing immigrant community in Augusta between 2014 and 2016. Its work focuses on cultivating personal relationships between immigrants and their new communities, providing resources and educating the broader community about diverse cultures and immigration issues.

The former Episcopal Church of Saints Matthew and Barnabas closed its doors last June, at which time it was announced that the New Mainers could lease the building and repurpose it into a home for a refugee family. The organization is also working to renovate the church’s sanctuary into the Hallowell Multicultural Center, where it could host potluck dinners, speakers and community events.

About 10 residents during the hearing spoke in favor of a grant for the the Capital Area New Mainers Project, with more voicing support via Zoom’s chat feature.

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Chris Myers Asch, co-founder and executive director of the organization, said during the meeting that the grant would help them address the building’s paint, which is believed to contain lead.

He said the former owners of the church had been planning to address the paint, but that it proved to be too expensive.

“This kind of grant is the only way we would be able to afford to do this,” he said. “So we’re thrilled that the city is willing to submit this on our behalf, and we think it would be a great addition to downtown Hallowell.”

This former church at 20 Union St. in Hallowell could be renovated if its application for facade improvements is approved. The Capital Area New Mainers Project that leases the property is one of two applications from Hallowell for the State of Maine Community Development Block Grant Program 2022 Community Enterprise Grant Program. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The 152 and 154 Water St. property consists of two buildings which are connected at all levels on the interior. According to the application, the property shows “obvious signs of deterioration, due to neglect, both inside and out.”

The buildings, which the application described as “empty, desirable, prominent storefronts,” have not had water, heat or electricity for several years, and immediate attention is needed to repair both roofs in order to ensure that they are structurally stable and do not pose safety risks.

Chipping paint is seen on a former church building at 20 Union St. in Hallowell. The Capital Area New Mainers Project that leases the property is one of two Hallowell applicants for the State of Maine Community Development Block Grant Program 2022 Community Enterprise Grant Program. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The application states that the upper floors could be repurposed into apartments, which would be particularly helpful “during a time of a severe shortage of affordable rental properties.”

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Larry Davis, president of Row House Inc., a historic preservation group in Hallowell which has more than 140 members, said his group has been following the issues on Water Street for a couple years. The group is “100% behind that grant,” Davis said, and has given the mayor a formal letter showing its support.

Bob McIntire, chair of the Historic Hallowell Committee, said that group also submitted a letter to the city supporting both applications.

Deb Fahy, president of Vision Hallowell, the city’s Main Street affiliate program, also showed support during the meeting, and said the two projects fit into its goals of getting the downtown into top physical shape, building a safe and inviting atmosphere where people want to shop and open businesses.

Fahy said Vision Hallowell also voted to support both grants.

Hallowell Code Enforcement Officer Doug Ide said that, with Community Development Block Grants, the public hearing actually precedes the formal application process. With the public hearing now over, the council will meet again on May 9 to consider approving the applications. From there, they would go to the state Department of Economic and Community Development for potential approval.

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