Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Keith Edwards email@example.com
AUGUSTA — City councilors on Thursday will discuss whether a group that played a key role in helping to preserve and improve the city's historic riverfront will continue to exist.
People play on the Mill Park pétanque courts today in Augusta. The Augusta City Council on Thursday is set to discuss the future of the Capital Riverfront Improvement District, an unfunded group that was formed to help guide preservation of the city's waterfront, of which Mill Park — the former grounds of the Edwards manufacturing plant — is part. The former Statler Tissue plant site is seen in the background.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
Mill Park in Augusta is seen in this photo taken today in Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
City councilors are scheduled to discuss the Capital Riverfront Improvement District, and its future, at their meeting Thursday night.
City Manager William Bridgeo, who was part of the decision to redirect the city's share of the district's funding to instead help hire a downtown manager, said he believes the entity very well may play a key role in future developments, but is essentially dormant at the moment.
"I would say it's dormant, the state has not appropriated its share of funding in two or three years," Bridgeo said. "It's a good group. But our funds have been drawn down. The city has not appropriated funding for it this year. But I think CRID remains a novel and potentially very useful entity for collaboration between the state and its capital city."
City Councilor Patrick Paradis, council representative to the district, said the last time the state funded its share was in former Gov. John Baldacci's last budget, in fiscal year 2011.
The city and state, until state funding ceased, each contributed about $30,000 a year to the district. It oversees development at Mill Park, as well historic public properties in a district that includes both the east and west sides of the Kennebec River in the downtown area, the city-owned former Statler Tissue mill and privately held Kennebec Arsenal.
Paradis said in recent years most of the funding went to the Maine Development Foundation, which administered the program and worked to help revitalize the downtown area.
Bridgeo said the group's 16-member board of directors, of which he is a member and which also includes city councilors, state legislators, residents, and city and state officials, last met about a year ago, and has no meetings currently scheduled.
State Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, also a member of the district board, said funding for the district was "put on the back burner" by both the state and city because of the budget problems both are facing.
But he said he still sees value in the entity continuing to exist, even if it's not active for a while.
"The basic reason for the organization is still really valid," Katz said Tuesday. "The state, it seems to me, has a real stake in the health of its capital city. It's important to everyone, not just Augusta. The reason for the partnership is still there. Hopefully, at some point, the funding will be replenished."
The district was established in 1999 by state law as part of the agreement for the removal of the old Edwards Dam, which crossed the Kennebec River at what was once the site of Edwards Mill and is now the site of Mill Park. It has been involved in the development of the former mill site into the park, the establishment of a farmer's market at the park, and the creation of a master plan for the district.
Bridgeo said the district, in the future, could play a role in development of the city-owned former Statler site into new uses, and the Kennebec Arsenal after state litigation with its owner is resolved, and other potential projects.
Councilors are scheduled to discuss the status of the district at their meeting Thursday, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center. Councilors are also scheduled to:
• discuss allowing social services as a permitted use in the city's RD Zone, to allow, according to Paradis, a food bank to potentially be located on Mount Vernon Avenue;
• discuss creating a paddle park by installing kayak and canoe storage and other amenities at the city's east side boat landing, a proposal from Gardiner resident Buddy Doyle;
• discuss making the block of Green Street between State and Water streets two-way;
• discuss forest management plans ;
• receive a check from Augusta Rotary Club to help fund the city-owned Bicentennial Nature Park.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647