Saturday, December 7, 2013
AUGUSTA — Downtown Augusta needs better parking, some public art, a bigger emphasis on the Kennebec River and a major signature event to draw more people to the historic riverfront downtown.
And the visiting team of downtown experts who made those recommendations also said it’s time to consider, and even try, making one-way Water Street into a two-way street.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan Water Street traffic is currently one-way in a northerly direction as this photo taken on Tuesday April 2, 2013 show in downtown Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
“We’re going to be recommending there be at least a very serious look, and a practice run, at putting Water Street two-way,” said Roxanne Eflin, Main Street Maine coordinator, Maine Downtown Center director and senior program director of the Maine Development Foundation.
Eflin, leading a discussion of the findings and recommendations of a team of outside experts who spent three days examining all things downtown Augusta this week, said statistics show downtowns with two-way traffic do better than those with only one-way streets.
In March, a bill proposed by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, to require the state Department of Transportation to study if Water Street should be converted from one-way to two-way traffic was rejected by state lawmakers, in large part because of the estimated $50,000 cost of the study.
Downtown merchants have said changing the traffic pattern has been a topic of discussion downtown since the 1960s.
Visiting team members, some of whom said they were “welcomed to town with some parking citations,” said the downtown needs parking that is friendlier to both visitors and, especially, residents who live downtown and thus need to park overnight.
Malcolm Collins, a preservation architect and former director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission who examined the downtown’s design and infrastructure as part of the visit, said the downtown’s parking rules are not user-friendly and it can be hard for people to figure out where the public parking is downtown. He said as demand for parking increases, it will likely make sense to add another deck to expand the nearby parking garage that is just above downtown Water Street.
Collins also said it was a “glaring realization for me there really is no public art in downtown Augusta. Which for a capital city, is not good.” He said University of Maine at Augusta would be a good partner to help bring some art downtown.
UMA and art were also floated as a potential focus of something else the city is lacking: a major annual signature event to bring people and attention downtown.
Eflin and Shannon Haines, executive director of the Maine Film Center and past director of Waterville Main Street, said one of Augusta’s strengths is its many events, including AugustaFest, which draw people downtown throughout the year, but that the city needs a major event to put it on the map.
They suggested expanding the Light on Water art walk, which started in 2012 and featured light and water-themed art throughout the downtown, could be one way to create a signature event in Augusta.
“It could be expanded into a signature event, you could incorporate a sculpture competition, you could project light out onto the river, use light to make downtown really attractive at night,” Haines said. “It would be unique — nobody else is doing this in Maine.”
About 35 people attended the visiting downtown team’s presentation on its findings and recommendations. They spoke at Riverback Dance Club on Water Street, with the Kennebec River visible through the windows just outside the downtown business.
Among Augusta’s strengths, visiting team members said, is that about 1,000 people work downtown, some 40,000 people, many of them state workers, come into the greater Augusta area every day to work, there are numerous conferences and meetings in Augusta, and people come here to shop already.
(Continued on page 2)