September 19, 2013

Waterville, Skowhegan, Augusta among cities to awarded grants to spruce up downtown areas

Communities to receive $15,000 each to help create environmental sustainability, among other goals

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Helping to create environmental sustainability and healthier, walkable communities is the focus of $75,000 worth of grants awarded to five cities this week.

Waterville, Skowhegan and Augusta are among the recipients of the grants, which are $15,000 each and issued by the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center.

The Green and Healthy Main Streets grants require one-to-one matches from each community and are expected to generate more than $250,000 in total project costs, according to a Maine Downtown Center news release. The grants are funded by the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.

Waterville Main Street is planning to use its grant to launch “Spring Street Pedestrian Convergence: Using Green Space and Public Art to Link Hathaway Creative Center, the South End Neighborhood and Downtown Waterville.”

Improvements will be made to the intersection at Water, Main and Spring streets to make it easier and safer to walk between the Hathaway Creative Center and downtown.

The plan is to turn a slip lane at the intersection of Main, Water and Spring streets into green space and a sidewalk and install public art, according to Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street.

Olsen said Thursday that the public art is a kinetic sculpture by Leigh Rose, and it will draw attention to the area as a pedestrian-friendly space.

“It’s a great, big mobile, and it’s made out of sheet metal, and it’s gorgeous,” Olsen said.

A slip lane is a turnoff lane before the intersection that allows traffic to skirt the intersection and move to the next street.

“That intersection has one on every single corner,” Olsen said. “That’s what makes it so impassable and a big gargantuan thing to walk through.”

 In this instance, the slip lane targeted for modification turns east off Water Street just before the intersection to allow traffic to enter the Ticonic Bridge.

The change is not a fix-all, but it is an incremental first step in making improvements, Olsen said.

A traffic study in 2009 called for improvements to the intersection and produced several scenarios to reach that goal, including the proposed slip lane change.

Olsen said the $15,000 match will come from funds set aside for pedestrian improvement when the Hathaway Creative Center was established.

Main Street Skowhegan plans to use its grant for rehabilitating the second floor of the McClellan building, an historic downtown building with entrances on both Water and Commercial streets.

The three-story building, owned by Karen Lewia, houses Lewia’s business, The Children’s Cottage, on the first floor and Midge’s Theater Arts on the second floor.

The plan is to create three new spaces for lease on the second floor that are accessible by elevator.

They would include a medical office, a community exercise room for people including those who live and work downtown and an open learning space for a cooperative group. A theater arts instructor, yoga teacher and tae kwon do instructor would use that space.

Energy upgrades including efficiency lighting, insulation and improvements to windows and doors also would be made throughout the building.

Dugan Murphy, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, said Lewia plans to fund the project beyond the $15,000 grant, for a total project cost of more than $110,000.

“It’s a pretty ambitious project as it is now,” Murphy said.

The Augusta project, to be spearheaded by the Augusta Downtown Alliance, is designed to encourage people to use the natural riverfront environment to achieve better health.

It is part of the city’s larger focus of expanding the Kennebec River Rail Trail and connecting it more directly with the downtown historic district.

Informational kiosks with WiFi hot spots will be installed and brochures and maps identifying downtown walking and running routes provided. Information and resources about exercise and healthful living will be available. A street fair celebrating health and wellness in a green downtown also is part of the plan.

Roxanne Eflin, senior program director of the Maine Development Foundation, said the grants are being launched through the Sewall Foundation but are just a part of her organization’s efforts to improve downtowns.

She said a statewide awareness campaign about “green” downtowns also is being launched that focuses on the connection between natural and built environments and how important it is to get that connection right for Maine’s economy, livability and quality of place. The campaign is called My Green Downtown, according to Eflin, who also is program director of the Maine Downtown Center and state coordinator through the National Main Street Center.

The four core goals of the downtown campaign are quality design, social interaction, energy efficiency and healthy communities.

Belfast and Biddeford also received grants. Belfast plans to make improvements to a downtown park; Biddeford plans to increase fitness activities and green space in a downtown park.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
acalder@mainetoday.com

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