Colby’s Renaissance Discussed at the Harvest in the Square

President Greene addresses large crowd in downtown Waterville.

President Greene addresses large crowd in downtown Waterville.

Harvest on the Square, an event celebrating local business, art, food, and all things Waterville, took place on November 10, 2015 on Common Street, right off of Waterville’s Main Street. The theme of the night was the Waterville’s renaissance and the community’s effort to re-invigorate Waterville as a hub of culture and business. Additionally, the speeches focused on the community working together to achieve these improvements as a network of institutions supporting business, the arts, and education. The event showcased Colby student art, Alfond Youth Center photography, Common Street Arts, and ten local artists. Additionally, there were several musical performances, including some of the College’s a cappella groups: the Sirens, Mayflower Chill and the Megalomaniacs.

The main attraction of the night were the six guest speakers: President of the College David A. Greene, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, Thomas College President Laurie Lachance, Chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation Greg Powell, and Senator George Mitchell. Waterville downtown restaurants including Amici’s Cucina, Silver Street Tavern, Holy Cannoli & Deli, and Pagoda Express provided refreshments during the event. Additionally, local downtown businesses Day’s Jewelers, Paragon Shop, Loyal Biscuit and Framemakers remained open until 8 p.m. to encourage attendees to go into the stores. Harvest on the Square, organized by Bill and Vicki Mitchell, was well attended and the tent on Common Street was bustling with excitement about the revitalization of Waterville.

Colby’s stake in the matter was quite apparent from each speaker, highlighting David Greene as a leader in the initiative to improve cultural life in Downtown Waterville. Colby, as an educational institution, is also a large supporter of the arts and brings many visitors to Waterville as approximately 50,000 people visit the Colby College Museum of Art annually.

In order to accommodate these tourists, as well as provide further incentive for visiting Waterville in the first place, Mayor Nick Isgro feels strongly that the city, the College, and all local businesses can be partners in increasing the opportunity for new resources in town. A new boutique hotel, for example, is one of the proposed ideas to fill an empty storefront that Colby recently purchased on Main Street.

Greg Powell, the chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation, spoke to the audience from a Waterville point of view, stating that “this town has seen difficult days, but as we can feel in the air tonight, that this is about to change.” In order to show how serious he is about making change, Powell presented Common Street Arts with another donation in addition to their previous $1.5 million check.

Speaking on behalf of Thomas College, President Laurie Lachance said she is “looking forward to embracing a role in Waterville’s Renaissance.” In the last five years, Thomas has invested 32 million into the Alfond Academic Center, new campus dorms, two community turf fields,  as well as hiring 47 new faculty members and increasing the student body by 16%. They are also maintaining their commitment to serving students from Maine. In the future, Thomas plans to build on skills to support employers in the region especially those operating family businesses with interns and entry levels positions to cultivate fulfilling careers for graduates. The College also hopes to offer free dual enrollment for local high school students to help cut down their time in college in order to make it a more affordable experience.

Next, Greene took the podium after an extremely warm introduction from Lachance. Greene, in addition to his history with revitalizing college towns, has championed this movement in Waterville for the last year, his first year as Colby’s 20th president. The new plans, Greene says, “will support the great businesses that are already here.” He even alluded to the idea of enticing pre existing companies to relocate to Waterville. Greene is “very much supportive of making this a destination for arts and culture,” and cites Colby’s Museum of Art as “the single best college art museum in the country.”

Finally, to close out the night of inspiring speakers was George J. Mitchell, a name you may recognize both from his impressive political career as well as the local school named in his honor. Mitchell grew up in Waterville and his father was employed by the College as a janitor, a job that both saved his father’s life and saved Mitchell’s family. Upon graduation from none other than Bowdoin College and awaiting enlistment in the army, Mitchell worked for the College on the grounds crew. He cites his high school English teacher, Elvira Whitten, with inspiring him to do more and to make change in his community. He said it was Whitten who changed his life.

Mitchell continued to delight the audience with his tales of growing up in Waterville, his family, and his political career. His positive attitude and encouragement for the Waterville community was contagious and inspiring. He said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a better feeling about being from Waterville or in Waterville than I do tonight.” In addition to thanking Whitten, Mitchell said, “what I am and what I have done is a product, first and foremost, of my parents and secondly of this community.” Evidently, Waterville has been a huge influence in both Mitchell’s life and in his impressive political career.

In closing, Mitchell gave thanks to the town of Waterville: “Not in my lifetime has anyone made as big of an impact as David Greene has on Waterville.”

Leave a Reply