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January 29, 2019

Three downtowns added to Maine Downtown Center Affiliate Program

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Downtown Hallowell has been added to the Maine Downtown Center Affiliate program, which supports communities in the early stages of downtown revitalization.

About the Maine Downtown Center

Established in 1999, the center serves as the state coordinator in Maine for the National Main Street Center, utilizing the Four-Point Approach to help communities statewide revitalize their historic downtowns.

About the Maine Development Foundation

Maine Development Foundation provides leadership development, research and creative partnerships to enable Maine business, community and policy leaders to drive Maine's long-term economic growth.

A program that supports communities that are in the early stages of downtown revitalization has added Caribou, Hallowell and its first neighborhood, Woodford's Corner in Portland.

The Maine Downtown Center Affiliate program, which is overseen by the Maine Development Foundation, offers access to training by state and national downtown development experts, best practices in the field and a network of peers from around the state.

All of the 17 communities that are members of the program are in the early stages of downtown revitalization, and many are working toward being part of the Main Street Maine program, which is a community-driven, comprehensive methodology used to revitalize older, traditional business districts. The affiliate program has similar support, but with less rigorous resource and financial investment than the Main Street Maine program, according to a news release from Maine Downtown Center.

The three communities went through an extensive application process before they were accepted, including an online application, a site visit and interview conducted by professional downtown revitalization experts who serve on the MDC Advisory Council. They also were required to make a written commitment to the program.

Over the last several years, the Maine Development Foundation has worked with the three communities to develop organizational structure, cultivate local leaders and pursue a four-pronged approach laid out by the National Main Street Center.

"I had the opportunity to attend every site visit this year," says Anne Ball, program director of Maine Downtown Center, "All three communities demonstrate good energy, a clear vision and pride in their downtown areas that have made these designations a reality."

Downtowns on the move

In Hallowell, a nearly year-long $5.89 million upgrade of the main street, Water Street, has just been wrapped up by the state. The reconstruction of the street, which is U.S. Route 201, and the upgrade of the sidewalks and other elements, was embraced by city residents and businesses as an opportunity to look at downtown's future.

"We're doing the long-term approach to see how we can entice more people to our downtown," Lynn Irish, a city councilwoman and owner of Whippersnappers quilt shop, on Water Street, told Mainebiz in June. "This is the perfect opportunity."

"We are excited to be chosen as a Maine Downtown Affiliate," said Jamie Houghton, president of Vision Hallowell, in the news release. "Downtowns are the heart of any community, and our little city has a big, creative heart that we wish to protect and promote using the tools and training that the Main Downtown Center program offers."

In Caribou, a number of initiatives are underway, which have included creating a downtown development group and coordinating events that bring together businesses and cultural organizations."The city of Caribou recognizes the value of being part of the Maine Downtown Center's Affiliate Program," said Christina Kane-Gibson, Caribou events and marketing director, in the news release. "The Main Street approach is a proven method of transformation that will bring our community even closer. I think our team is most excited about collaborating with the citizens and businesses who want to create positive change and economic opportunities in downtown Caribou."

In the Woodford's Corner neighborhood in the west part of Portland, a redesign of the five-way intersection is part of a bigger reworking of the area to promote livability, economic vibrance, accessibility and mobility, according to the city.

"Building on the assets already existing in the area, the plans will provide better pedestrian and bicycle crossings, new street furnishings and public spaces, better transit routing, and better traffic circulation," the city's website says.

The Woodford's Corner plans are a partnership between the city, the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System and the Maine Department of Transportation.

17 members in program

The program began in 2017, and members are Augusta, Bucksport, Farmington, LIsbon, Millinocket, Norway, Presque Isle, Belast, Brunswick, Damariscotta, Dover-Foxcroft, Machias, Madawaska, Bar Harbor, Eastport, Houlton, Stonington, Van Buren, Calais, Camden, Castine, Kingfield, Rumford and Westbrook are all members.

Of those, Augusta, Belfast, Brunswick and Westbrook are now among Maine's 10 Main Street Communities.

To become a member of the program, the community must:

  • Have a central business district "characterized by a cohesive core of historic and/or older commercial and mixed use building that represent the community's architectural heritage; a sufficient mass of businesses, buildings and density to be effective; be compact, easily walkable and pedestrian-oriented.
  • An organized effort, that "is broad-based and must involve local government and others, such as a nonprofit organization, Chambers of Commerce, commercial district organization, merchant groups, residents, etc.
  • A sustainable budget that summarizes and identifying projected income and expense costs to achieve program goals; willing to work toward developing diversified and sustainable program funding to accomplish goals.
  • Pledge commitment to the program, including attending MDC training, signing a letter of agreement and paying a participation fee.
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