Boston business owner follows through on downtown investment

Mark McLeod, of Wilmington, Massachusetts, confirmed in an interview with the Echo his intentions to follow through with his downtown purchase and expand his scope in Waterville. McLeod, owner of Boston Eye Design, purchased the former Ken-A-Set store building at 1 College Avenue in August after recognizing the investment potential in Waterville’s revitalization.

In an interview with the Kennebec Journal, McLeod stated his intentions to create a combined restaurant, microbrewery, and nightclub venue in the massive storefront.  In a phone conversation with the Echo, McLeod explained that he first planned to buy the former opticians on Main Street, but when the price of the Ken-A-Set building was reduced, he decided to make the jump and commit to a larger-scale project.

McLeod said that aside from the potential that a large space like 1 College Ave. holds, he was enticed by the history of the building, “it was not only a bowling alley at one point, but also an old Studebaker car dealership.”

The overall efforts downtown provided McLeod with the inspiration to commit to Waterville, and he noted that the initiatives with CGI Group created a strong precedent for him to start his own business. He also shared that multiple microbrewers and hard cider brewers have reached out to him following the initial sale to express interest in managing and supplying certain aspects of the venue.

McLeod noted that he is eager to collaborate with Colby students and administrators to make sure that his upcoming business aligns with community wants and needs. As a visitor to Waterville, the idea of a nicer restaurant and place to be entertained at any hour stuck out as a gap in Waterville’s current offerings to McLeod.

Students on Mayflower Hill also recognize the gap that McLeod referred to. Haley Andonian ’18 said in an interview with the Echo, “My friends and I love getting off campus to explore downtown Waterville, but the options of places to get a good meal or hangout get limited pretty quickly. Downtown could benefit from a new venue providing good food and a welcoming environment.”

In keeping with student desires and activities, McLeod mentioned his interest in participating in the Student Government Association-sponsored Thursday Bar Night, in which students, 21 years of age and over, are welcomed to a local establishment for drinks and lively conversation. McLeod further emphasized his interest in partnering with Colby students by saying he would test out the idea of “student bartenders” to make sure the business is mutually beneficial.

McLeod explained that he wants to time the opening of his multifaceted space with the development of Colby properties downtown, saying, “I wanted to wait until Colby started the dorms, since I don’t want to have it open and then construction on Main Street [adversely] affect the business.” Though, McLeod is slowly moving forward with the project and recently had a gas line put in and has an overall goal to “get the ball rolling” and get it open by the end of 2017 or spring of 2018.

Having become both literally and figuratively invested in downtown Waterville, McLeod is expanding his prospects. McLeod now comes up to Maine every few weeks and plans to buy and develop cost-effective housing for CGI Group employees to live in, reflecting the interconnectedness of so many Waterville initiatives.

With regard to any issues with doing business in Waterville, McLeod said that he has not encountered anything major and that he “timed it perfectly to be a part of [Waterville’s development].” He said that decades ago the city decided to change the flow of traffic, which he argued stagnated growth on Main Street, but now these issues are being addressed and the town will “flourish.”

Ultimately, McLeod envisions Waterville as a “miniature” version of Portland. Situated roughly an hour from both popular skiing destinations and the ocean, McLeod emphasized the desirability of the city’s location and argued that the investments downtown, coupled with affordable housing make Waterville a prime location for young adults.