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July 23, 2015

Colby College buys two downtown Waterville buildings

Photo / Google Maps The former Levine's clothing store building at 9 Main St. is one of two downtown Waterville buildings purchased by Colby College on Wednesday.

In a move hailed by municipal officials and downtown business leaders, Colby College has purchased two vacant buildings in downtown Waterville within several blocks of each other on Main Street that are being touted as strong candidates for redevelopment.

Ruth Jacobs Jackson, Colby College’s vice president for communications, confirmed in an email to Mainebiz that the college bought the long-vacant Hains Building at 173 Main St. on Wednesday for $220,000 and the former Levine’s clothing store building at 9 Main St. on July 10 for $200,000.

Jackson said the acquisitions are an outgrowth of Colby President David A. Greene’s ongoing meetings with city officials, business leaders, downtown organizations and community advocates “to identify strategies that will contribute to existing revitalization and economic development efforts."

Although no firm plans are in place, Jackson noted the group Greene has been meeting with has identified key priorities for Waterville’s downtown, including, she wrote, “potentially, a boutique hotel, more retail establishments and restaurants, residential space, leveraging the city's existing strengths in the arts and connecting Main Street to the Hathaway complex … These two sites, essentially at the center and south end of downtown Main Street, align well with these priorities.”

Asked how the purchase might fit into Colby’s long-range vision and its relationship with downtown Waterville, Jackson replied: “Colby and Waterville have been partners for two centuries. With the College's move from downtown to Mayflower Hill — made possible by Waterville residents — the physical distance increased. We are looking to bridge that distance through programs and initiatives that will get more students, faculty and staff into the city center and contributing more to the local economy and arts scene. We hope this infusion of energy will catalyze additional economic growth and ultimately make Waterville more of a destination for people from the region and beyond.”

“We are extremely gratified to see the affirmation by Colby of a decade-long effort by a number of our partner institutions to make Waterville a major arts destination,” Nate Rudy, executive director of Waterville Creates!, a nonprofit consortium of various Waterville arts and cultural groups, told Mainebiz in a phone interview.

Rudy, who also is a commercial real estate broker in Waterville and central Maine, cited as other examples of investments that are driving Waterville’s rebirth as a cultural and arts center:

• Colby College Art Museum’s new $15 million Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion wing that opened in 2013 and features a world-class collection of more than 500 works of art donated by the Lunder family.

• Waterville Opera House’s $5 million renovation project completed in 2012.

• Waterville Public Library’s $3 million expansion, which includes a Business, Career & Creativity Center.

• Maine Film Center, which purchased the Railroad Square Cinema in December 2012 to create a permanent home for the Maine International Film Festival as well as a venue for  additional year-round film and arts programming.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro told Mainebiz in a phone interview the two buildings purchased by Colby have been vacant for a long time but have great potential, being “historic in nature” and in locations central to the downtown. He said city officials and local business leaders have had three meetings with Colby College since spring and plan a fourth meeting about how the Main Street properties might be redeveloped in ways that will add to the city’s tax base, enhance existing downtown businesses and even spur additional downtown investments.

“This should send the signal that now is the time to bet on Waterville,” he said.

Jackson agreed with Rudy that Waterville’s reputation as an arts and culture center is growing.

“We already see people from all over the country coming to Waterville to visit the Colby College Museum of Art and the Maine International Film Festival, which recently concluded,” she wrote. “I was in the museum yesterday and looked through the guest book to see names from Texas and California, as well as from all over Maine and New England, of course. We want to be able to offer these visitors an even richer experience and to attract additional visitors to the area to take part in all the city has to offer.”

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Colby College to buy third Waterville building

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