Belfast wins downtown improvement grant

Posted June 11, 2012, at 6:29 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The city has won a $500,000 state grant it will use to improve 6.5 acres downtown, adding parking spaces and sidewalks.

The city’s application prevailed against those from five other Maine communities, City Planner Wayne Marshall said. The state Department of Economic and Community Development, which distributes the money, prefers to award just one community with downtown revitalization funds to help it achieve substantive change, rather than dole out less money for smaller projects, he said.

Though the money is targeted for “slum and blight” areas, Marshall prefers the phrase “urban renewal area.”

Belfast won a large revitalization grant in the mid-1980s, which rebuilt Main Street with brick-lined, granite-faced sidewalks, pedestrian “nodes” that curve out into the street, buried electric and telephone lines and installed street lights designed to look like gas lamps. But while Main Street, which runs to the harbor, is thriving, some of the streets that intersect it are less vibrant.

“What we’re trying to do is expand the core,” Marshall said. “We’re trying to create connectivity.”

The part of downtown that will be addressed with the $500,000 grant is a 6.5-acre area that lies within the boundaries of Front, Cross, Miller and Federal streets, an area just south of Main Street.

Though it may not be described accurately as a slum, there are two vacant lots, a dormant restaurant building, an industrial building and several underused buildings within the parcel, Marshall said.

The area will get new granite-faced sidewalks, including some areas where there have never been sidewalks. Forty on-street parking spaces will be created along curbs. New lighting will be added and possibly an information kiosk and signs will help lead pedestrians to the city’s broad, waterfront green space in the area known locally as the Belfast Common.

Underground drainage work, though less visible, also will improve the area, Marshall said.

A local match of $125,000 is part of the project, as is other local money.

The work is expected to begin next spring.

Meanwhile, work along Front Street on the north side of Main Street is expected to get under way this summer, including the development of a long-discussed harbor walk.

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