ROCKLAND, Maine — “This place matters.”
That was the message broadcast Friday to — and by — the 230 attendees of the 2009 Maine Downtown Conference in Rockland. The lobster capital added another honor to its collection as it was named one of the next two Main Street Maine communities. Rockland and Sanford join just nine other cities and towns around the state in the program, which aims to revitalize downtowns through historic preservation and development.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Rodney Lynch, Rockland Community Development director. “We’ve come a long ways.”
The new Main Street Maine communities were selected through a competitive statewide process and will enter into a partnership with the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center. They will receive thousands of dollars in training and technical assistance for downtown revitalization, and in return pledge to create a locally supported and sustainable program for the revitalization.
Rockland and Sanford join Bath, Gardiner, Saco, Waterville, Eastport, Norway, Skowhegan, Van Buren and Biddeford as communities in the 10-year-old program.
“It gives Rockland the tools to help itself,” said Kristen Cady, director of the Maine Downtown Center.
The program’s goals include bringing in new businesses, generating more visits to the downtowns and creation of public spaces.
“It brings people back into the downtown,” she said.
It’s a goal that sounds good to Frank Isganitis, who has worked with Rockland Main Street to connect his city with the statewide program.
“Look at Rockland on a Friday afternoon. Cars everywhere, people everywhere,” he said while standing in front of the renovated Strand Theatre and gazing down Main Street. “This is what it means. This is what downtowns should be.”
Rockland City Councilor Brian Harden also expressed his pleasure at being part of the program.
“It means a lot to me, being on the council and also working downtown,” Harden said. “We have a wonderful, surviving downtown. We’re lucky.”
Other towns interested in downtown revitalization scoped out the Main Street Maine program at the conference. Mike Hurley, the former mayor of Belfast, said that several city councilors attended.
“I thought it was terrific,” Hurley said. “I’ve been in business for over 30 years, and you can always learn something new. Belfast is really looking toward this model and we’re going to be moving it forward.”
Anne Krieg, planner for the town of Bar Harbor, said that her community is looking toward more year-round economic development.
“The Main Street program could do that,” she said. “It could help connect our Main Street community a little more formally.”