December 1, 2012

Hathaway renovations revive discussion of downtown Waterville roundabout, two-way streets

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- A second wave of renovations could be coming to the Hathaway Creative Center, and the news has spurred renewed discussion about downtown traffic patterns -- whether to build a roundabout at the intersection of Spring and Front streets and create two-way traffic on Front and Main streets.

click image to enlarge

An aerial view of the Hathaway intersection, showing the old rotary and two-way traffic in downtown Waterville.

Contributed photo

click image to enlarge

An aerial view of the Hathaway intersection in downtown Waterville, showing the current traffic patterns.

Contributed photo

Last week, Paul Boghossian, owner of the Hathaway, announced he has gained full ownership of two buildings at the Water Street site -- the former Marden's and Central Maine Power Co. buildings -- from business partner Tom Neimann. Boghossian wouldn't discuss details of the transaction, but he said he recently gained full ownership of the property by foreclosing on Neimann's shares.

A reporter's attempts to reach Neimann were unsuccessful.

Plans for the two buildings, which Boghossian bought in 2006 for about $700,000, still are taking shape. Boghossian is looking for a mix of private investment and bank loans for an estimated $20 million renovation project. He envisions the buildings will be similar to the Hathaway building, which was renovated to include office, retail and residential space. The redevelopment also could include a hotel and conference center, he said. Exterior work on the former Marden's building could begin within a year.

"It can't happen soon enough," he said. "The condition of the Marden's building is a profound embarrassment to me.

"It would be different if it was a building that was tucked away, but everybody drives by it."

That traffic, which courses steadily below its windows and across the Ticonic Bridge, also is a concern for Boghossian. The intersection of Water, Spring and Front streets creates a block between his projects and the city's retail center and stymies the flow of pedestrian traffic, he said. The subject has been a frequent refrain for the developer. He also has appealed frequently for two-way traffic on Main Street.

"I feel a little like (former Soviet leader) Nikita Krushchev banging my shoe on the table, saying, 'We gotta have two-way traffic on Main Street,'" Boghossian said during a special City Council meeting Tuesday. "We've got to really think about how friendly downtown is for pedestrian activity."

Two-way traffic and a rotary at the intersection have been supported by the city over the years.

In 2009, a publicly funded study concluded that a rotary would improve pedestrian access between downtown and the South End and increase green space and that it might aid the flow of traffic.

In 2007, then-mayor Paul LePage voiced support for two-way traffic after he attended the Northeast Mayors Institute of City Design conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., according to previous reports. Two-way traffic would reclaim Waterville as a city, making it a community that caters to those who shop and work downtown rather than a place designed to accommodate through traffic, LePage said at the time.

"(What) you have to do is decide whether you want to be a suburb or a city," he said. "If you want to be a city, you have to invite some congestion and learn to deal with it."

Both ideas, which could cost more than $1 million, would restore traffic patterns to Waterville that disappeared more than half a century ago.

Back to the future?

Before the 1960s, traffic on Main Street ran both directions, to the chagrin of some.

"It was gridlock," said Willard Arnold, 85. "Downtown was the shopping center for all of central Maine, and the street being two-way screwed the whole thing up."

Arnold, whose family owned the now-defunct hardware store W.B. Arnold Co. on Main Street, was a supporter of one-way traffic. In his role as chairman of the merchants' division of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, Arnold helped organize a meeting on the subject in the mid-1950s.

(Continued on page 2)

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