New ideas needed for riverfront’s east side revitalization

November 15, 2010

By Keith Edwards (Kennebec Journal)

AUGUSTA — The former Statler Tissue mill is long gone.

NEGLECTED: The state of the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta has city and state officials concerned.Staff file photo by Joe Phelan
MaineGeneral plans to leave for a new facility in north Augusta.

And the Kennebec Arsenal complex sits, vacant and majestic, beside the Kennebec River.

Opportunity knocks on the urban east side of Augusta, officials say, but they need to know what kinds of opportunities the public wants the doors to be flung open for, and what kinds should get the cold shoulder.

“Just looking at the east-side riverfront, you’ve got MaineGeneral soon to be vacant, the Arsenal complex which is vacant and historic, and the former Statler site, where a  lot of work has been done, is ready for development,” said City Councilor Darek Grant, chairman of the Eastside Planning Committee. “So it’s really a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city to put together a plan for development and growth for almost our entire east-side riverfront.”

The Eastside Planning Committee — charged with studying the east side of Augusta between the Cushnoc Crossing Bridge and the Arsenal complex and making recommendations on how it could best be developed — will host its first public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

With the significant amount of land becoming available for redevelopment on the east side in the near future, “residents have an incredible opportunity to lay out a blueprint for what they want their neighborhoods to look like going forward,” city Development Director Mike Duguay said.

This is not the first time the general area has been the focus of studies. The previous American Tissue Mill Reuse Committee studied how the former mill site could best be redeveloped, recommending mixed uses involving recreation and retail.

Grant said the new committee would also base its latest look at the area on the 2007 Comprehensive Plan and a previous Capital Riverfront Improvement District plan.

“I hope this committee will build upon all those studies,” Grant said. “They talk about mixed development, like smaller retail along with condos or apartments. A mixture of things, up and down the riverfront.”

The city owns the former Statler, or American Tissue, mill site.

The hospital property is owned by the MaineGeneral Health. MaineGeneral officials have said they don’t plan to keep it when they build a new hospital next to the Alfond Center for Cancer Care in north Augusta, which could open as soon as the fourth quarter of 2013.

The previously state-owned Kennebec Arsenal complex is currently owned by developer Niemann Capital, a North Carolina developer with plans to convert the
former federal facility into mixed uses. However, the company has taken little action on the historic property since acquiring it in 2007, with officials blaming the economy for lack of redevelopment there.

Grant said Mayor Roger Katz directed the committee to have a set of recommendations for the City Council to consider within six months.

The area is currently under a six-month moratorium banning any new development — enacted recently by councilors to provide time to put together a development plan.

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