Comp Plan Minutes: 3/4/19 (downtown)

AUGUSTA COMPREHENSIVE PLAN COMMITTEE

MINUTES

Fifth Meeting – Downtown

Monday, March 4, 2019 at 6pm

Old Fort Western Learning Gallery at City Center

Called to order at 6:01pm.

In attendance: Heather Pouliot, Kevin Lind, Bill McKenna, Melanie Baillargeon, Duane Scott, Brad Sawyer, Bob Corey, Justin Frank, Matt Nazar, Michael Hall, Soo Parkhurst, Shawn McLaughlin, Matt Pouliot, Linda Conti, Kevin Judkins, Roberta Record, Jennifer Fortin, Phyllis VonHerrlich, Kirsten Brewer, (others not identified or signed in).

Welcome remarks and committee introductions:

Members of the public are welcome to share their ideas regarding the future of the any aspect of the city as it relates to the downtown region.

Overview of the 2007 comprehensive plan as it relates to Augusta’s downtown by Matt Nazar:

  • The 2007 comp plan had a section on the downtown, called “A River Runs Through It.”
  • The area of the downtown covered the east and west side riverfront and out to the westside and eastside rotaries.
  • Successful downtowns have: (1) “destinations” that people want to visit; (2) transportation connections between those destinations; (3) offices that bring people during the day; (4) housing that provides safety and customers for nightlife; and (5) a “brand”. If these five are in place, retail and restaurants follow naturally.

The plan suggested the following:

  1. Downtown has many “minor” destinations: the Children’s Museum, Old Fort Western, Lithgow Library, and some in development (Arsenal, Edwards Mill site, old Cony High). However, none are well-linked, either visually or on foot. Major destinations around downtown include the Capitol Building, the State Museum, and the YMCA, but these also are not easily connected to the downtown by line of sight or by sidewalks. Downtown needs more destinations, and needs to connect them better. Currently the Maine State Museum and the Maine Military Museum are looking to expand their outreach. The University of Maine at Augusta is looking for space for student housing and classrooms. Cultural groups are seeking performance spaces. The City should work with organizations to attract and connect cultural experiences to the downtown. Any of these activities would generate additional foot traffic and customers for nearby restaurants and stores.
  2. Downtown should seek to strengthen its transportation connections. Better sidewalks and clearer signs are needed to link key sites such as the Flatiron Building (old Cony High), City Hall, Water Street, Lithgow Library, the Arsenal, and the Capitol. Students from the University of Maine at Augusta need a biking and walking connection from the campus to downtown. The newly acquired Bond Brook parcel provides an opportunity to connect both with a beautiful and safe off-road trail. Seniors need sidewalks that are smooth, ramps at curbs, and places to cross streets where traffic is slowed down. They also need efficient and accessible buses and/or trolleys to help them move freely about the City. For automobiles, the traffic pattern downtown is confusing. The parking garage is underused. Over time, parking needs to move away from the riverfront to sites such as the parking garage up the hill, and traffic flow needs to be simplified to and from parking areas. This will help to attract people to downtown and to promote second and third-floor residential and office expansion along Water Street.
  3. Augusta has been successful in recent years in attracting large office users downtown. Now it can turn its attention to supporting small businesses. We recommend that Augusta consider creating a small business incubator downtown, one that would bring together partners from the University of Maine Augusta and local banks and development corporations to help creative individuals to further their business ideas.
  4. Augusta continues to have vacant space in the upper floors of downtown buildings. These units would be ideal for downtown housing. However, the buildings were constructed prior to state codes for fire safety and handicapped access and, as such, are in need of significant upgrades. Additionally, the cost of rehabilitation exceeds the ability of tenants to afford the ensuing rents. We recommend that Augusta re-examine code enforcement, both at the local and state level, to see whether changes might create more incentive for downtown rehabilitation. We also recommend that the City and the Capital Riverfront Improvement District provide financial incentives for developers to assemble buildings downtown and spread the fix-up costs over more units. This should include continued funding for building façade improvements. Some effort has been put into the redevelopment of facades along Water Street and this program should be extended to other neighborhood and gateway areas.
  5. The sign that directs tourists to downtown on I95 reads “Capital River Improvement District.” As a marketing label, this name is dull. We recommend renaming the district. Renaming and marketing the downtown riverfront would be the first task of the proposed Augusta Image and Marketing Committee described in the Sense of Place section to follow.

Presentation of the Augusta Downtown Alliance by Heather Pouliot and Michael Hall:

ADA has been successful with its 4-point approach:

  1. Design:
    1. Oversaw the installation of a new mural above Cushnoc Tasting Room;
    2. Worked with the city and the artist on the installation of a travelling art exhibit in Market Square and Waterfront Park;
    3. Funded the restoration of Clint Pettengill’s mural across from the Downtown Diner;
    4. Oversaw the labor, painting and repair of two unsightly areas above Circa 1885 and Family Wealth Management; and
    5. Worked with city to design a new holiday lighting scheme for downtown.
  2. Promotions:
    1. Launched a new website and social media;
    2. Worked with Colonial Theater, Cushnoc Brewing, and the city to put on two headline summer concerts on Front Street;
    3. Launched movies in the park (a four part summer series) in Waterfront Park, which saw a total attendance of over 1,000 people; and
    4. Established Trick or Treat on Water Street, which saw attendance over 3,500 people.
  3. Economic Development:
    1. Saw no less than three new Tipping Point Initiative applicants in the downtown area;
    2. Helped fund four new signs and one new awning for downtown businesses;
    3. Led the charge for two-way traffic, which ADA is confident will reduce speed, increase business visibility and create more pedestrian-friendly experiences downtown; and
    4. Worked with Sen. Pouliot on pushing the Opportunity Zone funding.
  4. Organization:
    1. Organized and funded a downtown cleanup;
    2. Developed lasting partnerships with Central Church and Kennebec Valley Humane Society; and
    3. Raised almost $7,000 for Augusta Colonial Theater and the Kennebec Valley Humane Society.

Long term goals of the ADA include:

  • Lighting scheme for Memorial Bridge;
  • Marina and docking system on the westside;
  • Bury power lines on Front Street; and
  • High line style walkway over rail trestle.

Short term goals of the ADA include:

  • Upgraded crosswalks for the central portion of Water Street (thermoplastic);
  • New parking and directional signage for Bridge, Water, Commercial and Front Streets and parking garage;
  • New stain for stamped brick pavers on downtown sidewalks;
  • New banner post installation for central and north end of Water Street;
  • More holiday decorations for light posts;
  • Summer lighting scheme for Front Street;
  • Permanent art installations on Commercial Street  bump out, Market Square and Waterfront parks;
  • Ice skating rink in Market Square or in Waterfront Park; and
  • Creating welcome packets for new businesses and residents.

Additional goals mentioned by the ADA:

  • 100% business occupancy;
  • Community downtowns working together;
  • Involve Fort Western more;
  • Additional staff member;
  • Grow the Tipping Point Initiative;
  • Continue to work with the Colonial Theater;
  • Participate in at least 3-4 trade shows/events;
  • Utilize the river more, alone and with other communities;
  • Poaching list of businesses;
  • CDBG grants;
  • Be more Augusta-centric in marketing;
  • Host more window display contests;
  • Pop-ups shops;
  • Expand Halloween event;
  • Host successful Trek Across Maine stop;
  • Develop a site seeker program on website;
  • Create stronger relationships with building owners and leasing; and
  • Seek out and create relationships with potential businesses and restaurants.

Additional activities mentioned by ADA:

  • Economic development committee to work at finding more businesses to bring in;
  • Tipping Point Initiative, as well as signs, awning and marketing grants;
  • Colonial Theater and ADA working together on down concerts;
  • Branding;
  • CDBG grant course; and
  • New public arts initiatives.
  • The city should look to market its assets. Bond Brook trails was used an example. It is on the edge of downtown and could be an attraction for the downtown if more people know about it.. The same with Old Fort Western.
  • Need to put more emphasis on public transportation – make it more attractive like a vintage trolley that has stops at popular locations.

Public opportunity to identify concerns/suggestions that they want addressed within the comprehensive plan:

  • Linda Conti, ward 1 city councilor: the community needs to speak up and let the council know if they want the police station in the downtown.
  • Phyllis VonHerrlich, resident: need to address the issue of parking in the downtown; possible parking garage next to the Colonial Theater.
  • Jennifer Fortin, resident of eastside and also on age-friendly committee: there are many elderly housing complexes near the downtown, however, the pedestrian access to the downtown is a major challenge for the residents to go downtown (rotary); also encourages more benches throughout the downtown and city.
  • Robert Record, resident of westside: hope we have an art gallery; shared some of her artwork and read a poem.
  • Kirsten Brewer, resident: would like to reiterate access to the downtown, especially for all the state workers; also the Kennebec River Rail Trail is an asset leading into the downtown.
  • Matt Pouliot, State Senator: has legislation to expand TIF law to include police station as an allowable use for TIF dollars; city needs to be more proactive with the state to capture more CDBG money; add a marina on the river, could bring visitors from as far as Boothbay; need a clear understanding on codes; there can be a lack of assurance for developers; needs to be consistent with the state fire marshal; remove the subdivision code for upper floors in the downtown; has a bill to fund the Capital Riverfront Improvement District; develop a comprehensive map for parking in the downtown; review and update land use ordinances for the downtown and identify more allowable uses; rehab the brick building at Mill Park; cultural center; gave the example of an outdoor workout equipment trail system; consider a public elevator in the midsection of downtown so that visitors don’t have to walk around the buildings to go from Front Street to Water Street; consider a common area access agreement.
  • Kevin Judkins, ward 2 city councilor: need to disincentivize absentee landlords; the new location of the police department has value as an economic driver.
  • Soo Parkhurst, resident of downtown and business owner: the city needs to address the parking issue so that we are ready when more businesses are downtown and for when the Colonial Theater opens up; reevaluate the parking district.

Committee discussion on the downtown region, and other related items:

  • Heather Pouliot: improve signage to downtown; turn our focus on the river; focus on arts and culture as a hub; reconstruction of Commercial Street is an opportunity for improvements; bump outs for sidewalks; interested in learning more about the 2007 comp plan where it mentions the job retention program, business assistance program, economic development infrastructure, and development fund; continue the city partnership; increase advertising; and collaborate more with the city on economic development opportunities.
  • Bob Corey: need to address the Kennebec Arsenal; the space between the trail and the river is state-owned.
  • Duane Scott: should consider redesign in the parking lot on the waterfront; right now it is not very attractive; new concept for Front Street could make it an attraction; would have to be resilient to flooding.
  • Brad Sawyer: Front Street is the biggest asset for the city and have lots of opportunities for the future.
  • Melaine Baillargeron: need to bring in absentee landlords and get them involved and incentivized to fill their properties.
  • Darek Grant: mentioned the council goal discussion as it relates to the downtown, included the future location of the Police Station; Matt mentioned that the old Apgar building on the corner of Water and Laurel Street is considered, along with the old YMCA site.

Other committee matters:

Bob Corey asked if the committee is still considering a community survey.

Matt will explore options and report back to the committee for options on a survey.

Next meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 18, 2019 at 6pm in the Old Fort Western Learning Gallery at City Center. The focus of the public meeting is on volunteerism, churches, and non-profit organizations.

Adjourned.

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