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While redevelopment of the Waterville’s downtown has focused primarily on the buildings, one spot of green space is also part of the overall plan to revitalize the city’s core.
The redesign of Castonguay Square, a one-acre park in the middle of downtown, has been narrowed down to three concepts and a design will be finalized and presented to the city in February or March, said Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates.
The arts organization has led three public workshops on design ideas for the upgrade of the grassy tree-filled square bordered by Main, Front and Common streets, and fronting City Hall and the building that’s soon to become the arts center.
The design is being developed by architecture firms Beyer Blinder Belle, of New York, and Mitchell & Associates, of Portland.
Those involved in surrounding development projects said the redesign of Castonguay Square is a vital part of downtown redevelopment, which includes a $50 million investment so far by Colby Colleges, a plan for a $20 million arts center by Colby and arts organization Waterville Creates! next to the park and a 50-room hotel planned by Colby a block away.
“We’ve always been in discussion about how the park will fit in,” said Haines.
The workshops, the final of which was held two weeks ago, were supported by a $75,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant.
The park work itself will get help from $1.2 million of the $7.4 million BUILD grant the city was recently awarded by the federal government.
The grant is part of a $9.2 million downtown streets and infrastructure project that will begin this spring. The figure also includes $200,000 from the state Department of Transportation, $20,000 from Waterville Creates and $1 million from Colby College.
Brian Clark, vice president of planning at Colby College, said while the BUILD grant’s overall purpose was to improve downtown safety by making Main and Front streets two-way, as well as other streetscape improvements, the tangential effects are also important.
Public art, public access and community building are all part of the city’s economic development, he said.
“And we can see elements of that now,” as development progresses. “We can see some of it coming to life,” he said.
More than 150 area residents attended workshops as ideas for how the park will be redesigned are considered. The most recent one was held earlier this month.
Haines said there was general agreement that the grassy tree-filled park should have more usable space, be more visible and accessible and the north end should be more open to sunlight.
There was also agreement the massive elm tree in the center of the park should stay.
The park now is used for the summer Downtown Farmers Market, Waterville Creates' Waterville Rocks concerts and other gatherings and community events. It’s also frequently the site of brief low-budget City Hall weddings.
“But it can be more accessible, more visible,” Haines said.
The arts group, in partnership with Colby College, has plans to renovate the building at 93 Main St. next to the square, into a regional arts center. The $20 million project is still in the fundraising phase.
Haines said since the new building will have a smaller footprint than the 64,000-square-foot one that’s there now, it will allow more space for the square.
The project will also be designed to complement the arts center, which will have a three-story glass atrium facing the park. It also will complement the new Riverwalk at Head of Falls, across Front Street and a little west of the square.
The Castonguay Square project has been in the works for several years, and redevelopment of the square was part of an overall downtown redevelopment strategy developed by the city in 2016.
The planning principles included leveraging downtown’s existing strengths, including building on arts programing and creating public art, and providing more connections to the Kennebec River waterfront, a block north of the square and Main Street.
Other strategies were to attract more visitors and residents to downtown, increase economic activity, and create a sense of place.
That study was one of the keys to the BUILD grant application.
Haines said the square redesign would have happened without the grant, and initial ideas were careful to make sure designs would work whether Main and Front streets became two-way or stayed one-way.
But, “It’s exciting to have the funding there,” she said.
While a timeline hasn’t been established, it’s expected work would begin in the spring once the project is approved by the City Council, she said.
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