2017-07-06 / Front Page

Downtown task force nears goals

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Downtown Task Force Committee plans to make a formal recommendation to the city council sometime in early August, after which point the council may either disband the group or assign it a new task. The committee recommendation will include a map of downtown Biddeford highlighting a proposed downtown boundary and gateways. City gateways serve as entry points into the downtown, consistent branding and a way to identify the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown said economic development coordinator Brad Favreau. The committee will also submit a vision statement for the downtown to the city council.

Favreau provided a draft of the vision statement to the committee Thursday, June 29. According to the draft, downtowns are important because they define the community as a whole and embody its economic history. It said the goal in general is to attract more residents, shoppers, workers and tourists to the downtown, specifically people from out-of-state and University of New England students. The draft said the downtown should seek an assortment of retail businesses linked to manufacturing in the mills, street entertainment as well as live venue performances and new place-making elements to reinforce Biddeford’s identity.

“Great downtowns are places where people want to be,” the statement read.

Delilah Poupore, executive director of the Heart of Biddeford, a nonprofit quasi municipal organization focused on projects in downtown Biddeford, said as the downtown naturally changes, the city should actively influence it, not just follow trends. She said working class Latinos living in a suburb of Los Angeles protested increasing rent prices because art galleries and coffee shops were moving into their neighborhoods and traditional businesses were losing out. She said she wanted to avoid a similar situation in Biddeford.

“We’re talking about a purposeful method to diversify the business mix,” Poupore said. “Not gentrify.”

Mark Robinson, Biddeford resident and owner of Maine based public relations firm Robinson PR, said he too is concerned about people being left behind as new businesses move in, but insists all residents will benefit from increased commerce.

“More variety is a good thing for everybody,” Robinson said.

Julian Schlaver, co-owner of Angelrox and Suger, a clothing manufacturer and boutique in downtown Biddeford, said he wanted to avoid making imperative statements regarding downtown.

“We’re not deciding the future, we’re presenting a vision for it,” he said.

Biddeford resident Pete Lamontagne said he liked the vision statement drafted by Favreau. Lamontagne said too often politicians create lists of goals that are seldom acted upon.

“If a politician says ‘I have one goal,’ now I am interested,” he said.

Schlaver said the committee’s goals should be a vibrant downtown full of people walking and shopping. He said part of the central goal should be promoting downtown businesses and making sure it doesn’t look abandoned.

“In reviewing any proposal, the city council should ask itself if it will bring more people downtown,” Schlaver said.

Robinson said the city should consider conducting a survey of new residents and ask them how much time they spend walking downtown.

Committee Chairman Bruce Benway said he agreed with Robinson and suggested asking residents which businesses they visit most frequently.

“It might be helpful for the city to have an understanding of how residential changes taking place are impacting downtown,” he said.

City Manager Jim Bennett said residents could vote on awards for downtown businesses, which would help not only promote downtown but gauge public interest. He said the committee could consider commenting on other projects taking place downtown as well. Bennett said the committee won’t have time, but an example might be the council’s vote to formally modify the RiverWalk master

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