2017-06-01 / Front Page

Gateways needed

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Downtown Task Force Committee met last week at city hall to discuss potential gateway markers for downtown Biddeford. Gateways along the streets would provide a sense of neighborhood identity for residents and help visitors navigate the city more easily, according to committee members. The exact plans for the gateways have not yet been decided, however.

Bruce Benway, chairman of the committee and former Biddeford city manager, will bring a proposal before the city council once a consensus is reached among committee members.

“The committee has no authority beyond making recommendations to city council,” Benway said.

There are already signs in place marking the downtown in Biddeford. Bill Durkin, chairman of the Downtown Development Commission, said more than 10 years ago its members put signs at the bottom of Main Street across from Mechanics Park, Route 1 coming from Saco, the corner of Main and Elm streets and the corner of Alfred and Elm streets. Durkin estimates the group spent between $4,000 and $5,000 on installation and refurbishment.

“It was part of the DDC’s mission to do that,” Durkin said. “Since then we’ve had no communication from the chairman (of the Downtown Task Force Committee).”

A map created by Economic Development Coordinator Brad Favreau proposed gateways in several locations where the DDC placed signs, as well as in new locations that include South and Elm streets, Alfred and Birch, Hill and Pool and Clifford and Pool. Members of the committee, however, did not reach a consensus at the May 25 meeting on where gateways belong nor the boundary of the downtown. The committee would like to designate and place signs for the neighborhoods surrounding downtown in order to create a sense of identity for Biddeford residents, but first they need to decide which areas to include.

Benway said he feels it may be time for a new theme to the signs in downtown Biddeford. This is the committee’s first serious attempt at identifying potential gateways and Benway said he expects the concept to go through a number of iterations before it is brought before the city council.

The existing signs read, “A proud city rising where the water falls,” and the image of a waterfall. It’s also the name of the anthem of the city of Biddeford, according to Biddefordmaine.org.

“We are trying to provide a vision, at least short term, three to five years, for the downtown area so that we can cast whatever future recommendations we would make to the council within the context of that vision,” Benway said. “We want to have a verbalized vision so we can make it a talking point.”

Biddeford Director of Economic and Community Development Daniel Stevenson said he feels there are many different definitions for the borders of downtown.

Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford, said constructing a commonly accepted definition of downtown Biddeford is on the agenda for the committee. Deciding which businesses are included in that definition will be necessary in light of the proposed Downtown Improvement District, which would eventually raise funds for beautification projects in the downtown through an increase in taxes for downtown property owners.

Julian Schlaver, owner at Suger and Angel Rox, hopes a stronger sense of where the downtown lies will make the neighborhoods surrounding it more attractive to young people.

“Part of this exercise,” Schlaver said, “is to try and create an area in which activity is going to flourish, support residents and encourage people to live around the downtown.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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