June 18, 2018
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Finding money will be key to Camden downtown plan

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

CAMDEN, Maine — After months of public forums and discussions, the proposed Camden Downtown Master Plan that calls for using the town’s advantages to encourage year-round economic strength will go before the Select Board at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Camden Development Director Brian Hodges said the presentation to the Select Board will be only to provide information. He said the Select Board will schedule a public comment session on the plan at one of its May meetings.

“Camden is in a great position to capitalize on its existing natural, physical and people assets to achieve its goals for a vibrant, four-season downtown. The downtown retains most of its original structure and charm, has engaged merchants and business owners, a capable service committee, and dedicated town administrators and officials,” the plan states.

The report notes that paying for implementation of recommendations in the master plan will be the most important issue.

“Great ideas and plans are nice but without money to back them up, that’s about all they are,” the report states.

Since the voters most likely will not support the use of town taxes to pay for implementing the plan, implementation is dependent on other grants, programs and the tax increment financing districts, the report states.

Among the items identified by the report is that while the village has several public parking areas within comfortable walking distance, the lots are not well marked and are difficult to find.

“Bottlenecks and confusing intersections discourage pedestrian activity that is necessary for the vitality of the downtown,” the report states.

The report said that better signage is needed for parking areas.

The report also states that Camden has a distinct, compact downtown that offers advantages and disadvantages.

“By necessity, Camden must focus on rehabilitating and improving its existing buildings. Another consequence of this compactness is for Camden to focus on activities that benefit from its density, such as conferences, rather than activities that require open space, such as big festivals and concerts,” according to the report.

The downtown master plan identifies seven economic development clusters to “increase economic interest in the downtown, provide the downtown with branding options, [and promote] a livable and viable community that sustains year-round jobs over the period of the next 20- to 25-year economic cycle.”

The clusters include a business growth cluster that could help redevelop existing buildings through a new tax increment financing district and federal and state historic tax credits as well as create an incubator program for new businesses; a technology cluster that could be assisted through Maine Community Foundation matching grants; a creative economy cluster that involves the library, opera house and attracting a movie theater; an events economy cluster; a recreational economy cluster that would include a pathway along the Megunticook River between the former tannery site that the town is trying to sell to the downtown; a historic and architecture cluster; and a tourism cluster that encompasses all of the other clusters.

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