Downtown planning group turns focus toward summer

As students on Mayflower Hill prepare for final exams and solidify plans for summer, the team in charge of the College’s downtown revitalization is also looking ahead. Much progress is slated to be made on the College-owned downtown properties in the coming months, and the advancements will likely be visible to students come September.

In an interview with the Echo, Vice President of Planning Brian Clark said that while much of the Colby community will be absent from Waterville in the coming months, those on Main Street will notice significant activity. 173 Main Street, known formerly as the Hain’s Building to many locals, will open up in August, adding between 100 and 120 permanent jobs to downtown, according to Clark.

Interior plans for 173 Main Street are currently being finalized in talks between the College and CGI, and some administrative groups from Colby that will be moved into the building.

Though Clark did not yet know which College administrators would be moving downtown, he said that it will likely be a group that is not involved in student or faculty life on a daily basis.

On the ground floor of the building, below the CGI and College offices, there will be a retail space. Clark said that the College is very close to being able to announce a retailer for the building, a choice that was “heavily informed” by student and faculty input.

Across the street from the former Hain’s Building is the site for the mixed-use residential space, which will also undergo significant construction over the summer. Most of the asphalt was removed from the Concourse last week, and construction is now getting into soil removal and the relocation of “some existing utilities,” according to Clark. 

The foundation will be laid and the mechanical and electrical infrastructures will be built between now and August or September. Clark said, “it is a pretty extensive site excavation,” as the old buildings that once existed on the Concourse were essentially demolished and packed into the ground, rather than having the rubble taken away. To further compound issues, Clark said there are rumors that there used to be a gas station on the site, so the construction crews must proceed with extra caution. 

Currently, the downtown team is working on specific design elements. Clark said that “at this moment [the team is] quite literally picking the color of the brick.” Clark is considering using a local brick that is consistent with the color used in many of the buildings in the Old Port in Portland.

Further down Main Street is the site of the College’s future boutique hotel. Although the hotel was originally slated to open in the fall of 2018, the College is just now in the “early design” phases, according to Clark, and will likely not start construction until students have returned for the next academic year.

The architect for the hotel has been chosen, but the College will not yet release the name of the firm due to contractual negotiations.

Across from the hotel is another Colby-owned building, for which the College is awaiting developer proposals. Clark said he is anticipating three “very qualified” proposals, all with Maine ties and one with Waterville ties. The proposals are due for review on May 15.

The proposals and market will determine whether the spaces will be residential or mixed use, but Clark said that from conversations with two of the three developers, he expects it will have a significant portion of residential space.

Looking at challenges that the College will face during the summer, Clark said, “now that we are in construction [the biggest challenge] is communicating and managing through the construction on Main Street as best as we can.” Clark said that in order to mitigate any inconveniences that the construction causes for those who frequent downtown, the College has set up email lists and bi-weekly neighborhood meetings with property owners to “ensure that communication is happening.”

Since the disruption might cause many people to go downtown less, and thus slow business in local shops, Clark said he values events and programs that bring local restaurants to cater on campus, as Colby must “make sure we have a process to support them during the construction period at the highest level that we possibly can.”

It is also likely that the 100+ people who will be working downtown in the fall will support Main Street’s businesses.

One of the most contentious issues between Waterville and the College in recent weeks has been the lease of parking spaces for use at the boutique hotel. The vote was stalled earlier in April, but the College has since gained confidence after negotiations with City Council members and locals. The vote last week was four to zero in favor of the College, so Clark anticipates that things will go smoothly on May 2.

When students return to Waterville in September, Clark said that some elements should start to be “coming out of the ground” with the downtown dorm, thus leading to a visible change to Main Street.