Last week, we looked at the city of Brewer’s recent economic development efforts:
• Revamping its website into a slick, professional online presence;
• Re-establishing the Brewer Business Resource program;
• Creating a downtown district;
• Reviewing outdated ordinances that interfered with the city’s current goals;
• Its marketing efforts as a founding partner of the new Cross Insurance Center.
But there are other ways the city is working to draw businesses to Brewer, most notably, its efforts to enhance the community to make it a more attractive venue.
Education has become more enticing with the construction of the K-8 Brewer Community School, which has garnered much attention as a game-changer in Maine education. The BCS also includes the Brewer Performing Arts Center, a 487-seat facility that likely will become a strong draw to Brewer.
Coupled with the federal interest-free loan to renovate Brewer High School, and another similar loan in the works, Brewer is becoming more alluring educationally. With the opening of the BCS, however, that left four former schools in Brewer empty and ready for redevelopment.
And that has created some new challenges.
The Capri Street, State Street, Washington Street, and Brewer Middle Schools, like most structures built before 1960, contain such things as asbestos, lead paint, and PCBs, which must be abated. With three federal Brownfields Program grants of $200,000 each, the abatement and demolition of Capri Street, Washington Street , and State Street schools will not cost Brewer taxpayers much.
Washington Street School has already been demolished and become a public space. The footprint of Capri Street School will become a combination of an athletic field and probably one or two house lots.
The city is currently negotiating with a developer who wants to convert the Brewer Middle School into senior housing, a project that may start next spring.
While there is no solid plan for State Street School, the building will likely be demolished and the site likely developed into commercial space, probably with shared public parking to serve that space, the senior-housing project, and the superintendent’s office — and perhaps more overflow parking for Doyle Field.
In fact, Doyle Field is undergoing potential renovation as well, although as a private project.
Several community leaders have been pushing to raise private funds to rebuild the field, which currently doesn’t drain well. When it rains, sports events often have to be held elsewhere at school-department expense. Other events that might use Doyle Field opt not to do so due to the messy nature of the field. The renovation goal is to do earthwork to construct proper drainage, rebuild the field, and add amenities such as a press box and public restrooms.
While that project is private, it will require the city’s cooperation. Like the schools redevelopment, Doyle Field will contribute to the community in a way that makes Brewer more attractive to potential residents — and businesses.
Then there’s the Waterfront Trail. Thanks to federal funds appropriated by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, work has just begun on its first leg, which will run from the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge south to Hardy Street. It will include a 10-foot-wide paved path, rails, underground wiring, lights, park benches, and trash bins. And this will give people better access to the Children’s Garden, which has been on the trail path for several years.
“We think it will be a visually impactful piece, and I’m very hopeful that this will introduce a lot of people to the Children’s Garden — because we have a gem down there that not enough people are familiar with,” said D’Arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s director of economic development.
The trail will make the South Main Street business district an increasingly attractive location. This is the first piece of a trail envisioned to connect all three bridges, eventually running all the way to Cianbro, and in the future designed to connect to Felts Brook and ultimately a citywide trail system envisioned by the Brewer Land Trust. In turn, this will connect with the ambitious East Coast Greenway, a series of interconnected urban trails for non-motorized access that will stretch from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Fla. For Brewer’s part, this first waterfront stretch is a small piece, but a good first step for that project.
And it’s just one step among many the city of Brewer has been making in recent years.
“We haven’t been sitting idle during the last five years as the recession stunted our growth,” said Main-Boyington. “Instead, we used that time wisely to build better systems, create new brand initiatives, and put the various pieces in place to position Brewer for the time when the economy would invariably strengthen once again.
“We are seeing a lot of optimism in the economy recently,” she said. “Our city is positioned right where we were hoping it would be to take advantage of the opportunities a stronger economy will provide.”