February 27, 2013

Augusta Downtown Alliance may join Main Street program

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The Augusta Downtown Alliance wants to join the Main Street Maine revitalization program, a step that would obligate members, local merchants and other donors and the city to pay jointly for a new downtown manager’s position.

click image to enlarge

Larry Fleury waters a planter on Water Street in downtown Augusta in July.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Proponents say the city’s downtown already is showing signs of new life but needs to take the next step and have a dedicated, full-time manager on the job to oversee and accelerate growth in the heart of the city.

Augusta Downtown Alliance officials are scheduled to present their proposal to become a Main Street Maine program to the Augusta City Council at the council’s meeting Thursday, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

“The whole community has a lot to gain,” said Larry Fleury, president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit group that formed in 2010 to promote the revitalization of the downtown. “For so long, people have driven through downtown Augusta and said, ‘This is a beautiful downtown. Why isn’t anything happening there?’ Well, things can happen here, because the community is embracing it.”

To become a Main Street Maine downtown, the city, merchants and Augusta Downtown Alliance members would have to commit for at least three years to hire a full-time manager whose job would be to promote the downtown.

Fleury said his group estimates an annual budget of $75,000 to run the program, which would be funded in thirds — one-third by the city, one-third by merchants and other private donors, and one-third from Augusta Downtown Alliance membership and grants.

The city’s commitment would be $25,000 a year.

Fleury said a manager is needed to develop and speed up downtown revitalization efforts that are being led by volunteers who put in 2,500 hours downtown last year, Fleury said. 

“What this does is give proper management to downtown,” Fleury said. “It’s important we have this long-term solution in place. It’s a national program we’re going to be following — a successful, very powerful approach to revitalizing downtowns. It’s the sure-fire way to step up the process and supercharge it; so instead of results in 15 or 20 years, you see immediate results.”

Fleury said if the city commits $25,000, about $71,000 of the program’s $75,000 projected budget will be committed.

A Night Out at the Mansion, a fundraiser to help raise money toward that $75,000, is planned for 7 p.m. March 23 at the Governor Hill Mansion at 216 State St. The event will feature live music including the University of Maine at Augusta jazz band, food, a cash bar and a live auction. Tickets cost $40 and are available by calling Fleury at 242-0540 or buying them online at www.augustadowntownalliance.org.

Augusta would join 10 Main Street Maine communities already designated by the program. They are Gardiner, Waterville, Skowhegan, Bath, Belfast, Biddeford, Brunswick, Rockland, Saco and Sanford.

Augusta is already a member of the Main Street Maine Network, which is a lower level of involvement in the Maine Development Foundation’s downtown program.

“Everybody in Augusta is going to feel really good about downtown,” Fleury said of the Main Street Maine revitalization program. “And if we feel good when we drive through downtown, we feel good about the whole community.”

Councilors on Thursday also are scheduled to:

• Discuss making energy-efficiency improvements, including installing new natural gas boilers at multiple city buildings;

• Discuss the communications and social media policy;

• Discuss a natural gas request for proposals; and

• Discuss amending council goals about redevelopment of the former Cony High School flatiron building.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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