September 26, 2013

DON ROBERTS: Growth spurt could put Augusta on map as an All-American City

Don Roberts

SOMETIMES IT TAKES disruption in our everyday lives to bring attention to what is really happening around us.

Sitting in traffic in Augusta's north end the other day, I thought: Augusta is being invaded by progress. With progress comes a price.

Change can be temporarily uncomfortable.

Two natural gas companies race to beat the winter in order to provide a new, much less expensive, source of heat for us.

The immediate citywide construction condition belies the positive prognosis of creation of hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the community, in addition to the benefit of a much less expensive fuel source to our residents, commercial establishments and municipal facilities.

Our capital city is truly on the move.

Let's take a look at what's going on:

* The ribbon-cutting for our sensational new MaineGeneral's Alfond Center for Health on Old Belgrade Road at Exit 13 is scheduled for next month. This facility, added to the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care site, is world-class and puts Augusta on the map as one of the country's best medical center communities.

* Business is expanding in our city. Jobs are being created.

Several award-winning businesses have expanded, including J.S. McCarthy Printing, Kennebec Technologies, Kenway Corp. and Bolduc Technologies.

In the past year, $11 million in new permits were issued for commercial buildings and additions; $3.5 million for new residences.

Augusta's unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the state and nation.

Other notable developments include:

* The $50 million Kennebec County judicial center, well under construction.

* Planned redevelopment of the Cony flatiron building, with two major grants received to boost that project for much-needed senior housing and additional uses.

* Downtown Augusta is coming back to life, led by the Augusta Downtown Alliance. New stores, restaurants and the University of Maine, Augusta, school of Architecture.

* Mill Park, home of petanque, the fastest growing outdoor bowling game in the world and a salute to Augusta's Franco-American heritage, and the Farmers Market, continues to grow in scope and use.

* Multimillion dollar improvements to Augusta State Airport.

* Continuing improvements at Alumni Field.

* Two new banks have constructed buildings in Augusta.

* Kaplan University has opened a new campus.

There isn't enough space to list everything else. Let's face it, folks, "Things are really happening here in river city."

The National Civic League recognizes 10 communities every year for outstanding civic accomplishments. To win, each community must demonstrate innovation, inclusiveness, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration, according to the NCL website, ncl.org.

I believe that our city meets all of those requirements.

A designation as an All-American City has helped communities win grants and new resources and attract new employers.

With confidence that we will survive the great construction upheaval, I propose that we nominate Augusta as an All-American City for 2014.

Don Roberts is a former city councilor and vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta. He is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District, and a representative to the Legislative Policy Committee of Maine Municipal Association.

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