ELLSWORTH, Maine — City councilors have defined the city’s downtown area and adopted a downtown plan that will help to guide development in that area in the foreseeable future.
Councilors stipulated that the plan was not a legal mandate that requires specific actions. But according to city planner Michelle Gagnon, the plan brings together information from several studies conducted over the past decade into one document that will serve as a blueprint for future development in the area.
While much of the recent focus has been on the major retail development on Myrick Street, Gagnon said, the city is committed to supporting the older areas of the town including the downtown area.
“We are a service center; we recognize that fact and we embrace it,” she said. “But if we create 300 jobs up on the hill and lose 200 in the downtown, we have to ask whether that is worth the effort. We’re committed to maintaining a balance between the hill and the downtown.”
The downtown plan draws on five studies done with “significant” community involvement between 1996 and 2008: the Quality Main Street Study; a Master Plan for the city’s waterfront, parts I and II; Waterfront Redevelopment plan; the Ellsworth Bicycle-Ped Plan; and the Downtown Parking Study.
According to the resolution, which councilors adopted Monday, those plans identify broad goals for the downtown area. Along the waterfront, they call for walkability and mixed use along with green space and access to the water and also identify redevelopment potentials for some riverfront lots.
The Bike-Ped Plan focuses on having functional and connected walking and biking paths, and the parking study identifies parking issues that have been discussed for decades.
Gagnon said the new downtown plan includes recommendations from various studies that can be used to leverage city, private and grant funds to revitalize the downtown area. The next step, she said, is to identify which of the recommendations have been accomplished and develop a list of the remaining action items.
The city already has begun the preliminary work for a revitalization grant application which could draw on some of those action items as part of the grant project, she said.
Gagnon stressed that the work so far is preliminary, and no specific projects have been identified yet. The planning department likely will develop a list of potential items that will be reviewed by the city manager and the council before the grant application is completed.
Among the items that could be included in the grant project, she said, are upgrading the city parking lots, including work on the upper City Hall parking lot, improving the waterfront, and, as a partnership, making improvements at The Grand’s auditorium.
“All of these are coming right out of the downtown plan,” Gagnon said. “We’re trying to find ways to further the city’s funds and to bring more into downtown improvement.”
Members of the Downtown Business Association already have discussed a number of these projects, she said, which is an important aspect in the grant process.
“In order to be successful, you have to show that you’re ready and that there is a lot of involvement,” she said. “This is a great way to do it.”
The plan is linked to the downtown area that the councilors also adopted on Monday. The downtown area includes approximately 0.24 square miles in the heart of the city identified mainly by “a concentration of historic buildings, on-street businesses, institutions, second-floor apartments walkability and its social, cultural and recreation opportunities.” There are 297 lots in the designated downtown area