MACHIAS, Maine — Last August, members of the Maine Downtown Center’s advisory board spent six hours in Machias taking an inventory of the downtown area and making suggestions for revitalization. But this week — more than a year later — little appears to have changed.
“We need to start doing more, getting out there and getting this going. We need to find our identity and bring it out,” Town Manager Chris Loughlin told the town’s Downtown Revitalization Committee Friday. “We need to be Machias in her Sunday best.”
The goal, he said, is to break the committee — which appeared to be foundering — into subcommittees and to elect officers. “We are well-intentioned,” he said, “but we need to become formally organized.”
Loughlin said the group will elect officers and establish three committees by next month. These groups will focus on promotions, organizations and design. “We need to brand ourselves,” Loughlin said.
A year ago, the Maine Downtown Center team that visited Machias had many suggestions and ideas, ranging from quick fixes — such as pulling weeds in the sidewalks and adding signs for parking — to more intense efforts, such as working with the owners of empty buildings to fill them.
They praised the enthusiasm of the Machias Downtown Revitalization Committee and said the town had enormous potential.
But they also frankly described Machias’ downtown as shabby and unkempt.
“It looks like your grandmother’s house after she died and it was left vacant for 10 years,” advisory board member Ken Young of Hallowell said. “You need to spruce it up. Pull the weeds. Sweep the dirt off the bridge. There are so many places that you can make an immediate and important difference.”
Some improvements have been made, Loughlin noted, including the renovation of Overlook Park by the Beehive Collective this summer. Local business owner Sandi Bryand also installed a new handicapped ramp on her business and erected a new, attractive fence to protect an empty lot. The town also paid for part of the fence.
Bryand was quick to call residents to action Friday. “Everyone in this town should stand on Main Street and step back and look and say ‘What can I do to change this look?’” she said. “I’ve put $10,000 of my own money into these projects.”
At least three new businesses have also located or relocated downtown, without assistance from the committee.
Loughlin said he will be providing each committee member a copy of the Maine Downtown Center’s final report to the town. “Some of their suggestions, we’ll just say ‘No, that isn’t Machias,’ but others — such as the weeds in the sidewalks — we need to address. We need to take this downtown from ratty to nice,” he said.
Getting both local business owners and the University of Maine leadership involved will be vital to the process of change, the report said, yet members of the Machias committee are few, with just four to five businesses, the farmers market and the Chamber of Commerce represented.
Other suggestions that have not been acted upon included signage for a “museum in the streets” to play up Machias’ important historical assets, creating a town website for promotion, working with existing business owners to beautify Main Street, installing better signage and removing the traffic nodes on Main Street that limit parking.
Loughlin said that elections and establishment of committee membership will take place at the committee’s next meeting, 7 a.m. Friday, Oct. 14, at Helen’s Restaurant. All interested persons are invited to attend.