Millinocket needs urban renewal policy, councilor says

Posted Aug. 12, 2012, at 9:13 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Mike Madore wants to see town leaders create an urban renewal policy while they still have a choice, he said Sunday.

The Millinocket Town Council member believes that Millinocket has several buildings that are abandoned or decrepit and said he wants to see those buildings identified while they can still be saved.

“We haven’t totally identified all the properties that necessarily should be dealt with, but we do have a declining population and we have an abundance of houses and apartment buildings and no one to really fill them,” Madore said Sunday.

At his suggestion, councilors will inspect the former home of Movie Kingdom on Aroostook Avenue as part of what Madore hopes will be the start of a cataloging of the town’s abandoned or troubled buildings.

The town got the Aroostook Avenue building as part of a foreclosure proceeding after its former owner failed in several attempts to sell it, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said during the council’s meeting on Thursday.

Councilors agreed to the walk-through and said that any successful sale of the building the town might engineer would include several conditions.

“We need to ensure that the person who takes it over cleans it up,” Councilor Richard Angotti said.

“Leaving it the way it is is not the answer,” Councilor Gilda Stratton said.

Many town buildings already have fallen into the cycle of decay that often comes with declining populations and increasing poverty, Madore said.

Property owners fail in attempts to rent the buildings, which fall into disrepair. The disrepair increases as the owners fail to make enough money from them to maintain them. Attempts to sell the buildings fail, and the structures eventually become so decrepit as to be unsalvageable. Then they get abandoned, Madore said.

“We have some beautiful buildings in town,” Madore said. “They just lack people to invest in them. What we are getting is unfortunately substandard apartment buildings and housing and now we are looking to put them back onto the market with the idea of somebody buying or marketing them. I don’t see it happening.”

Millinocket’s population has declined from close to 10,000 people to less than 5,000 over the last 10 years — a precipitous drop — and about 60 percent of the people remaining are elderly, Madore said.

The struggling local economy is the cause. There are some positive things coming, such as the restart of the No. 5 paper machine in East Millinocket, which will create 37 new jobs, and the expected construction of a torrefied wood machine in Millinocket this fall, which will create 20 to 25 jobs and support dozens more in the forest products industry.

Tractor Supply Co. has been renovating a former Ames department store in a retail plaza off Route 11 with plans to open late this month, and the town’s new multiple use recreation trail has been drawing new tourists, including ATV riders. School officials are working on developing a program that would draw dozens of tuition-paying Chinese students to attend Stearns High School and state workers just completed an effort to increase boating tourists on the Pemaduncook chain of lakes just outside Millinocket.

But Madore said he doubts that these activities would culminate soon enough to help the town’s troubled buildings.

Madore recommended the town establish an urban renewal fund and begin determining which buildings should be saved or razed. The razed properties can be added to adjoining businesses or homes, thereby bolstering the towns’ property tax rolls, or turned into small greened parks, thereby beautifying the town, Madore said.

No inspection dates have been set. Conlogue will set a date for the Movie Kingdom inspection after conferring with town Code Enforcement Officer Michael Noble.

Follow BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. on Twitter at @NickSam2BDN.

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