Augusta has ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ to revitalize area
By Keith Edwards, Kennebec Journal, Thursday, November 10, 2011
AUGUSTA — A new report envisions the east side of the city connected to the west side by a pedestrian path crossing the Kennebec River on the old train trestle.
Major recommendations for change, indeed.
Several factors are coming together at roughly the same time make such change possible, said City Councilor Darek Grant, chairman of the city’s Eastside Planning Committee.
“Augusta has been given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to steer where we want to see the future of the east side riverfront,” he said.
Opportunity to shape the future of a two-mile section of prime real estate along the Kennebec River comes in large part from the departure of two giants that shaped the development of that part of the city during the last 150 years or so.
One, already departed, is the former paper mill known for many years as Statler Tissue and, most recently, American Tissue Mill. The city took the site for nonpayment of taxes in 2009 and subsequently leveled it in hopes a firm can be found to redevelop the site for new uses.
The other is the MaineGeneral Medical Center campus, which will be vacated when the hospital moves to its new site in north Augusta in 2014.
“With their departure, new uses and new developments will replace them,” said the committee’s recently released report, which goes to the City Council at 7 tonight.
“How the city invests in, promotes, and regulates land uses in this area over the next few years, and indeed the next few decades, will set the tone for redevelopment of the entire area and could affect residential and commercial development well beyond the boundaries of the Eastside Planning Committee study area,” the report says.
Recommendations include improving access by both motorists and pedestrians to the former Statler site, which is between the Kennebec River and Bangor Street and currently accessible through residential Maple Street and steep Drumbarker Road.
The report suggests Locke Street as a potential primary access to the site because of the traffic signal at its intersection with Bangor Street and its proximity to the middle of the site. Doing so, however, would require a road and sidewalk extension and an at-grade railroad track crossing.
The report has a dramatic recommendation to provide better pedestrian access to the former Statler site — work with the state Department of Transportation to install a pedestrian path the rail tressle that crosses the Kennebec River from downtown on the west side. The bridge could provide a way for people to walk to the site from downtown and the Kennebec River Rail Trail.
The report also said the mill site should be renamed, noting it’s name — the former American Tissue Mill site — “is not appealing to potential office, retail, restaurant or housing developers.”
The best way to redevelop the soon-to-be-former MaineGeneral campus, the report notes, may be to tear the old hospital down and focus new development on the area closer to the river, which is currently primarily used for parking.
The report notes MaineGeneral management, including Chuck Hays, president and chief executive officer, were part of the committee and “They expressed some skepticism about the possibility of a new user being interested in the existing building because of its purpose-built nature, relatively disjointed layout that resulted from numerous additions over its 100-year life, and the amount of renovation that would be necessary to adapt the existing building for another user or users.”
The report also suggests looking, as the city has done multiple times over the last few decades, at relocating the city’s snow dump, which is beside the east side boat landing directly under Memorial Bridge, and “is a highly visible and significant visual blemish on the landscape that often lasts to the beginning of August.”
While the report recommends working with the state to look into taking the historic Kennebec Arsenal property back from the North Carolina developer who owns it, Grant is hopeful development and improvements of the area adjacent to the Arsenal will encourage development at the Arsenal itself.