June 23, 2018
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Machias Downtown Revitalization Committee seeks to redevelop historic properties

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — Building on the town’s assets and turning each of those assets into enticements for community development is one of the goals of the Machias Downtown Revitalization Committee.

As part of that plan, the group will be seeking a $150,000 Community Enterprise Grant from the state’s Community Development Block Grant program this winter. The plan is to redevelop two historic properties — one on each end of Main Street — that will bookend the commercial district and raise the bar for future projects.

Chairman Betsy Fitzgerald explained that a combination of groups, including the revitalization committee and the Washington County Development Authority, could use the grant funds to purchase a vacant building that now sits in the front yard of the historic Burnham Tavern. The property qualifies for brownfields cleanup funds, Fitzgerald explained, which will be necessary as it is a former dry cleaning and laundry business.

The building would then be razed and a plaza or park created to give the tavern more prominence. Valdine Atwood of the Machias Historical Society said a walking tour of prominent and historic Machias landmarks already has been created and includes the town’s cemeteries. The bookend project would augment that tour, she said.

A second part of the bookend project would be restoration of a former train station on the other end of Main Street. The building would become the future home of the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. Fitzgerald said the grant’s letter of intent is due in early February.

More than 15 committee members met Friday to take inventory of the area’s assets, which included its historical significance, its unspoiled landscape, Bad Little Falls and the Machias River estuary, the Downeast Sunrise Trail, Down East Community Hospital and Maine Veteran’s Home, the scenic and commercial aspects of the dike and Route 1, a vibrant art and music community, and a wealth of active senior citizens. They also named the growing agricultural sector and farmers markets, the town airport and the area’s natural resource-based industries, such as fishing, blueberries and evergreens.

The group also said other layers of diversity and richness are added because Machias is the county seat and home to the University of Maine at Machias, the area Chamber of Commerce, the Beehive Collective, Porter Memorial Library, a wide range of churches, a former racetrack and fairgrounds.

Assets also included local commercial ventures, such as a sea salt processor and five banks, and annual events, such as Margaretta Days and the Wild Blueberry Festival.

Fitzgerald suggested grouping the assets into categories, such as environmental, historical, arts and leisure, commercial and educational, and tourism and marketing. Each member was challenged to determine how to use each asset to the area’s benefit and bring those suggestions to the next meeting.

Members suggested the committee keep its focus tight to rally the most local support and, as part of the bookend project, business owners will be encouraged to spruce up their properties, plant flowers and gardens.

Also at the meeting, Atwood gave a presentation on the downtown area, including never-before-seen panoramic photos of the lumbering businesses along the Machias River estuary.

The group’s next meeting was scheduled for 7 a.m. Friday, Dec. 9, at Helen’s Restaurant conference room. Anyone interested in economic development in Machias is welcome to attend.


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