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February 1, 2019

Waterville seeks developer for mixed-use Riverfront Gateway

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The Waterville Riverwalk opened in September at the Head of Falls, a former mill site that had been vacant since the 1960s. A planned mixed-use development would go on the grassy area. The Kennebec River is to the left.

The city of Waterville is seeking a developer for a mixed use project at Head of Falls — the first commercial development of the 20-acre site since a mill there was razed in the late 1960s.

City development officials expect the project to have an impact.

"It is the intent of this project to symbolize the economic, cultural and historic nature of both Head of Falls and Waterville's downtown," said a news release from the city Thursday.

The site's geography, which includes 4,600 feet of Kennebec River frontage and proximity to downtown make the project a "gateway" initiative, according the release.

"[The Riverfront Gateway Project] will support an associated network of adjacent downtown developments and community assets," linking to the $100 million in redevelopment downtown, including six parcels developed or under development by Colby College.

The 1.5-acre parcel is in between the parking area at Head of Falls that borders Front Street and the new quarter-mile $1.5 million Riverwalk, which stretches the length of the north side of the parcel along the Kennebec.

Riverwalk, which was completed in September, was the first step to developing the long-vacant parcel a block north of downtown city officials said at the time.

The city issued a request for qualifications Thursday for the mixed-use development. The request asks for "a narrative description of previous development experiences and concepts from qualified developers/development teams."

City Manager Mike Roy said in a news release that it's an "an exciting opportunity for the city to partner with a developer to create an impactful mixed-use concept for one of the most beautiful sites in the city."

He said the project is part of the continuing development of the city's economic base.

"We're pursuing this opportunity to anchor the Head of Falls area and continue the vibrant transformation of the downtown, with pedestrian-friendly access, shops, restaurants, offices, housing opportunities and arts activities," he said.

The deadline to respond to the request is before 5 p.m. Feb. 28.

Ripe for development

Courtesy / City of Waterville
Courtesy / City of Waterville
A map shows where a mixed-use development would be built at Waterville Head of Falls.

The project spreads downtown revitalization, spurred by Colby College's development of six sites in the four-block area, to the river, which runs behind downtown and was long part of the city's industrial past.

Roy last year told Mainebiz that the time was ripe for development of Head of Falls, considering other development in the city, and the river is an asset that the city should capitalize on.

The strip of land is bordered by Front Street and railroad tracks on the south side, and the river on the north, which for years made it a no-man's-land, despite the striking Two-Cent Bridge, a historic pedestrian bridge that connects the city to Winslow, across the river.

In 2005, Waterville invested $1 million in water, sewer and electric, to attract developers to the site, but there were no takers.

Roy said last year that the city hoped for mixed-use development at the site, but open space will still be important.

He said that there were a lot of reasons it took decades for movement at Head of Falls. The city, for many years, "turned its back on the site." There was also division about what to do — develop it as residential and commercial, or as industrial.

"It was paralyzing," Roy said. "In the '60s and early '70s, the river wasn't a pleasant place to visit. It was certainly not seen as major attraction. Now some cities would kill to have a site like this."

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