Kennebec Journal | Augusta councilors agree with ideas to revamp riverfront

Report includes river walkway, new uses for former mill

By Keith Edwards, Kennebec Journal, Friday, November 11, 2011

AUGUSTA — The old tissue mill is gone from the east side riverfront, and the
hospital, too, is moving out of that part of the city.

City councilors said Thursday they agreed with a committee report that
proposes several dramatic ideas for the future of the east side of Augusta,
ranging from creating a way for pedestrians to get from the west side downtown
across the Kennebec River on the old railroad trestle to bringing new uses to
the former mill site.

Councilor Patrick Paradis said the report’s recommendations “are not easily
accomplished, but will be tremendous for the city.”

“I think you have the support of the council, right now, for some of the
ideas you want to bring forward,” he said to the committee.

With the council’s positive reaction, City Manager William Bridgeo said he
will work with Councilor Darek Grant, chairman of the Eastside Planning
Committee, to craft a proposal to start working on implementing many of the
recommendations of the report.

For starters, they’ll have to figure out what to do with the vestiges of the
area’s past and current uses.

Like the old, about to be vacant MaineGeneral hospital and its riverfront
parking lots.

As well as the privately owned OneSteel metal recycling yard next to the
former Statler and American Tissue site, where there has been a scrapyard for
nearly a century.

And 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,” the committee
report states.

Grant said the city must work closely with MaineGeneral when the hospital
relocates to its new complex now under construction in north Augusta.

Grant said hospital officials acknowledge finding a new user for the old
hospital building could be a challenge. He said MaineGeneral has said if a new
user can’t be found for the building, the hospital may be more inclined to
demolish the building rather than leave it standing vacant.

Grant noted the hospital’s riverside parking lots have potential for
redevelopment because of their proximity to the river.

The committee report also suggests the city work with the steel recycling
yard to help the business find a new location.

And, Grant said, despite failed efforts to move the city’s snow dump, the
time may be right to revisit that issue and try to find a new place to dispose
of the snow.

Other recommendations of the 23-page report include improving access by both
motorists and pedestrians to the former Statler site, which is currently
accessible through residential Maple Street, where at least two committee
members live, and steep Drumbarker Road, ownership of which, Grant said, is
unclear.

The report suggests Locke Street as a potential new 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.

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