HOULTON, Maine — Business owners, residents and downtown advocates are pressing for development of a committee to actively advocate for the downtown area.

“Some group has to be a continuous advocate for downtown to make sure it stays a viable space,” Brian Stewart of Stewart Engineering said during a June 4 discussion about the downtown area at the Houlton Town Office. “Economic development is a separate part.”

The meeting was held just one month after members of the Maine Downtown Institute, a program of the Maine Development Foundation, visited the Shiretown to encourage development in Market Square.

Though everyone agreed that job creation and a better economy would certainly help to support the downtown businesses, Stewart cautioned the group.

“I think, overall, Houlton needs that as a community,” he said. “But downtown Houlton is a specific area that has to be treated differently than Houlton at large. It is a very unique place. If we don’t figure out a mechanism to help downtown from falling into disrepair and demise, it is just going to be the market forces that take it forward.”

Those market forces might involve more residential development and less commercial, he said.

Stewart suggested that town planners and business owners might want “to figure out some way to create an entity that is going to protect the downtown buildings from being mis-developed or from falling down,” he said. “So, what is the mechanism that we can create — this idea of a downtown committee has some sensibility in my mind. We have to get a grip on a comprehensive goal to protect the business interest.”

The group also determined that among the items to address downtown are parking, sidewalks, creating energy and communication.

It was suggested that parking be switched from parallel to angled to develop more spots, with more options created for parking behind downtown businesses. The group found that something also should be done about the brick sidewalks, which are especially slippery in the wintertime and difficult to walk on and shovel clean of snow due to the shifting and heaving.

Meeting participants also agreed that events already held downtown are vital to keeping the energy in the district to encourage downtown visits, and it is important that businesses work together and that organizations compliment each other’s efforts.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” said Iva Sussman, Cary Library trustee and downtown advocate. “We have a library that is top notch in our state. We have a wonderful park system, our amphitheater, the performing arts at Houlton Community Arts Center and supportive business people who really care about the town.

“We need to remember to be proud of our community assets,” she said.

The group selected some specific tasks to work on, including parking and aesthetics in the downtown district, and the individuals responsible will report back at the next meeting.

The group planned to meet again on Monday, June 29, to further discuss downtown issues and determine whether to form an official committee. That meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the Houlton Town Office.