Thursday, April 17, 2014
Projects aimed at revitalizing downtowns in Augusta and Skowhegan each took a step forward this week. The two efforts are very different, and at very different stages. But they both represent the potential for downtowns, and the need for continued attention and investment in those areas.
Augusta’s 101-year-old Colonial Theater, at 139 Water St., has been vacant, and steadily deteriorating, for decades. The old movie theater, which also has a stage, is now empty, its seats removed and part of its floor collapsed. In 2011, it was named one of the state’s most endangered historic properties by Maine Preservation, an independent nonprofit organization.
But there is new hope for the old theater. Now, Richard Parkhurst, who has a successful track record of developing buildings in downtown Augusta, has offered to help oversee its reconstruction.
Although the predicted snowstorm may cause a delay, a meeting is scheduled for tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Gannett Building, not far from the theater, at 331 Water St., to open discussion about how to rehab the building.
A renovated, vital Colonial Theater would be a draw downtown, and could help build on the effort to inject more life in the city’s historical center. Tonight’s meeting is a small step, but it is one in the right direction.
Further along is the $4.3 million Run of River project proposed for the Kennebec Gorge in downtown Skowhegan.
Selectmen this week saw a digital model of the project, which would create a whitewater park in the center of town for rafters, canoers and kayakers, as well as surfers and bodyboarders.
Not only will the park draw outdoor enthusiasts to Skowhegan, but it also will improve the aesthetic appeal of downtown, encouraging commerce and giving the area a new identity.
Rivers were once the industrial centers of Maine towns, and too often downtowns turned away from these natural resources. Projects such as the Run to the River help correct that, making the waterways the focal point of renewed downtowns.
Funding will come from state, federal and private sources, as well as the Sappi tax increment financing district. Towns should always be concerned that costs from large projects will unintentionally spill over to taxpayers, but Skowhegan residents should be assured by the years of planning that have gone into the project.
These kinds of investment are worthwhile. They are not the end-all-be-all, even when they are as transformative as the Run of River. But they are one more block to be used in rebuilding these once-vibrant downtowns.