Sunday, May 19, 2013
AUGUSTA -- City officials told downtown revitalization advocates they'll need at least a month to determine whether the city will commit $25,000 a year to help hire a full-time downtown manager.
Augusta Downtown Association President Larry Fleury and Roxanne Eflin, senior program director for the Maine Downtown Center, presented a proposal to city councilors Thursday advocating that the city's downtown become a Main Street Maine program downtown.
To become such a designated community, a full-time downtown manager would have to be hired, and the city would be required to commit to pay one-third of the program's operating budget each year for at least three years.
Fleury said the program's budget would be about $75,000, making the city's commitment $25,000 per year.
While City Manager William Bridgeo said he supports the idea and thinks the association is "wonderful," he said the city could not commit to the $25,000 right now, because he is in the final stages of preparing his annual budget proposal, which will go to city councilors this month. He said the $25,000 could involve policy implications and other issues that should be decided by councilors, after they have the proposed budget in front of them. The deadline to apply to join the Main Street Maine program is March 30.
Bridgeo and Mayor William Stokes asked Eflin whether the city could have 30 days past that deadline so councilors could have Bridgeo's budget proposal to consider first, and discuss whether to make the $25,000 commitment.
"You got it," Eflin said. "That would be fine. I certainly understand about the timing of that."
However, she said the application still must be filed by March 30, and the Main Street Maine program would need at least a letter from the city, filed with the application, indicating there is general interest among city officials in having downtown Augusta becoming an official Main Street Maine downtown.
The downtown manager's job would be to promote the city's downtown.
One-third of the downtown program's budget would be paid by the city, one-third by merchants and other private donors, and one-third from Augusta Downtown Alliance membership and grants. Augusta Downtown Alliance is a nonprofit group that formed in 2010 to promote the revitalization of the downtown.
Main Street Maine is a program of the Maine Development Foundation. It uses a national trademarked downtown revitalization model.
Fleury said the program and a full-time manager are needed for Augusta's downtown to take the next step in revitalization. Last year alliance members volunteered a total of 2,500 hours downtown, Fleury said, adding that as president, he spends 20 to 30 hours a week in alliance activities, and he can't continue to spend that much time away from his own business.
"This needs to be done by a professional downtown manager, who will bring stability to the position while building trust and cooperation up and down Water Street," Fleury said. "We strongly encourage you to commit to the next, obvious stage in downtown Augusta's revitalization efforts. With the Mattson development across the river and the new courthouse, this is the opportune time to make the center of our city the best it can be."
Fleury said the program will pay for itself by opening up the downtown to more grant opportunities, and increasing the tax base by growing the economy.
Augusta would join 10 Main Street Maine communities already designated by the program. They are Gardiner, Waterville, Skowhegan, Bath, Belfast, Biddeford, Brunswick, Rockland, Saco and Sanford.
Augusta is already a member of the Main Street Maine Network, which is a lower level of involvement in program.
Eflin said the program invites only one new downtown to join each year, and this year Augusta is that single invitee.
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647