Colby begins demolition of buildings downtown

In an effort to jumpstart the economy of Central Maine, Colby has poured millions of dollars into downtown Waterville over the past year. Since 2015, the College has purchased five properties. College administrators have voiced their desire to develop a boutique hotel, a student dormitory, and to improve retail and office spaces in downtown Waterville as part of the ongoing revitalization effort spearheaded by the College, civic leaders, and local business owners. The multi-million dollar revitalization project plans to revamp Waterville by establishing new and overhauling current retail, office, and leisure spaces along Main Street.

Colby is currently the largest property owner on Main Street and has garnered a lot of attention for its investments in the City. In addition to the five properties Colby owns, the College is set to purchase a plot of land on the Concourse, currently occupied by a parking lot, for $300,000 from the City by the end of the month.

Despite the many changes on Main Street that have occurred over the past year, the most visible changes are still coming. Colby will be tearing down four buildings, three of which are prominent structures at the end of Main Street near the intersection of Main, Front, and Bridge streets. The buildings to be razed are 13-15 Appleton Street, 16-20 Main Street, 12-14 Main Street, and 9 Main Street. Demolition began at the College-owned property on Appleton Street, last week. The Appleton property previously served as the Waterville Elks Lodge and most recently was home to the Resurrection Life Church, which moved to Ridge Road.

Demolition has already begun on 13-15 Appleton Street. Kiernan Somers | The Colby Echo

Demolition on 13-15 Appleton Street.
Kiernan Somers | The Colby Echo

The Appleton Street property is located near the head of Main Street and adjacent to 173 Main Street, the former Hains building, and nearby the Concourse property that Colby is slated to purchase. Brian Clark, Vice President of Planning for the College, stated in an interview with The Echo that the property will supplement Colby-specific parking needs downtown. Over the next week, Costello Dismantling Co. will be dismantling the Appleton building. Director of Commercial Real Estate for the College Paul Ureneck commented that the College is working with Costello to recycle and salvage as much material as possible from the building. According to Ureneck and Clark, the demolition process on the other Colby owned structures will begin over the next month. Through the revitalization process, Colby intends to restore the “historic core” of the city, according to a College press release. Many locals, however, have questioned how Colby intends to preserve the history of Waterville by tearing down multiple historic buildings. Clark responded to this criticism, stating that each building was thoroughly inspected and the decision to raze them was not taken lightly. Clark continued, elaborating that there were a variety of factors, such as structural, environmental, and accessibility factors, that led to the decision the tear down the buildings. “This is an important first step in the redevelopment of the street,” commented Clark.

Ureneck and Clark have been heavily involved in the planning process for the so-called, “Step 2” of the redevelopment. The ultimate goal of Colby’s investment’s downtown is to serve as a catalyst for other development. Clark and Ureneck are definitely succeeding in their goal as there has been substantial outside investment into downtown Waterville. Most recently, Massachusetts businessman, Mark McLeod, purchased 1 College Avenue, the former Ken-A-Set Thrift Store building. The Morning Sentinel reported that McLeod, who owns Boston Eye Design, is planning to develop a microbrewery or sports bar restaurant on the first floor and a nightclub on the second floor. Justin DePre ’06, has partnered with his brother, to invest in Downtown Waterville as well, purchasing the Atkins Printing Buildings. The DePres began renovating the facade last spring. Additionally, Bill Mitchell, owner of local insurance company, GMH Insurance, also purchased property on Common Street, adjacent to Main Street and has plans to renovate the building for both commercial and residential use.

Ureneck has been a constant presence on downtown. He stated that he often has coffee with local business owners at Jorgensen’s Cafe or Selah Tea. Ureneck views his role as the representative of the College on Main Street. Ureneck maintains an office in City Hall, where he has an open door policy and is often visited by members of the community. Colby has been heavily involved in the planning and conceptualization going into the project; therefore, Ureneck views his location downtown as essential for facilitating communication between the College and City Manager, Mike Roy or City Engineer, Greg Brown. In addition to serving as the face of Colby on Main Street, Ureneck has been in talks with many potential lessees of planned retail space. “We have seen tremendous interest for spaces nearby the site of the future dormitory,” commented Ureneck. 173 Main Street, which is directly across the street from the Concourse property (planned site of a new student dormitory downtown) is slated to be renovated by Colby, with the top two floors serving as office space for the growing tech consulting firm, Collaborative Consulting, and the ground floor serving as retail space.

Although the planning process for the student dormitory is in its infancy, both Clark and Ureneck, in addition to local business owners, are excited about the potential economic impact of having over 100 students living downtown. The City has commissioned multiple studies on traffic and parking near Main Street. Clark stated that the parking and traffic studies will be publically released in the coming weeks. Clark elaborated that adjustments to traffic patterns, such as allowing two-way traffic on Main Street, or widening sidewalks, will help aid in the economic redevelopment by getting more consumers to engage with the local businesses on Main Street.

The Colby administration has outlined a long-term plan for Waterville, where they hope to leverage Colby as much as possible to stimulate the City. Clark captured this sentiment stating, “Ultimately we want to drive traffic to Colby through the use of fields or engagement with the arts, and thus, drive traffic
to Waterville.”