2017-09-21 / News

DDC continues without direction from council

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Downtown Development Commission will continue to identify possible WI-FI hotspot locations downtown and secure sponsors for the equipment.

The first wireless hotspot was placed on top of city hall and has been active for a month. Activity logged from the hotspot shows almost 900 users have accessed the wireless internet available downtown and between half and two-thirds of those are unique logins. The commission, which last met Sept. 11, also plans to post two signs for the wireless hotspot, one in front of the entrance to city hall and another across from 208 Main St., the future site of Bangor Savings Bank.

Economic Development Coordinator Brad Favreau met with a member of Biddeford Savings Bank to discuss sponsoring a hotspot somewhere downtown. The cost of a sponsorship is $5,000 for three years, as long as GWI continues to provide broadband, which is yet to be finalized. Favreau said Biddeford Savings Bank sounded interested but the discussion was inconclusive.

“I think we maybe should start putting out feelers for other sponsors,” Favreau said.

Suggested locations for future hotspots included 140 Main St. owned by Steve Ebling, 299 Main St. owned by John Harkins and 265 Main St., the site of Elements. Stephanie Edwards, commission member and Elements employee, said the owners of the building might be interested because residents around the café have been using the business’s wireless internet throughout the night, forcing employees to unplug their router at the end of each day.

Aside from more wireless hotspots, the commission also discussed the report and map compiled by the Downtown Task Force, which meets weekly at 8 a.m. Thursdays in the mayor’s office. The map was published in the Aug. 31 edition of the Courier and highlights possible locations for downtown gateways. The gateways are intended to denote entrances into downtown Biddeford and provide a consistency in the area. Favreau, who attends the weekly task force meetings, brought the copies of the map to the commission to allow members a chance to review and provide their input. Favreau said the Downtown Task Force, established about a year ago, will be disbanded within the next four to six weeks and felt the commission had an opportunity to continue the work of the task force. The Downtown Development Commission has been active since at least 1975.

“We could investigate what other municipalities are doing in terms of gateways and what might be appropriate for Biddeford, given our constraints. Then we could write up a proposal to present to council,” Favreau said.

Commission Chairman Bill Durkin recalled a gateway design created by Engine Director Tammy Ackerman a few years ago that had a large ornate arch over the street marking the entrance to downtown. Durkin identified the intersection of Route 1 and Main Street as a possible location.

“Totally depends on the layout of the gateway but that would be a prime place,” Durkin said.

The Downtown Development Commission placed four gateway signs in the past, three downtown and one by Five- Points. They used the waterfall logo of the city with the slogan, “A proud city rising where the water falls.” There are no definite plans yet as to what the new gateways would look like.

“The gateway could be a subtle transition. It doesn’t have to be grand, maybe even barely noticeable,” Favreau said.

Without a budget, Durkin hopes the commission can play an advisory role in the city. The city council chose not to fund the Downtown Development Commission for fiscal year 2018. He’d like to update the façade ordinance to help establish continuity among downtown businesses. Other policy recommendations could include input on the RiverWalk and pedestrian safety. Durkin is also happy to receive direction from the city council on what the commission’s evolving role could be, but so far has not received any communication.

“We are an extension of city government, not too many cities or towns have that. It’s pretty unique,” he said.

Commission members were also curious what the status of the Downtown Improvement District will be and how that might affect the look and placement of downtown gateways. Edwards said she’s wondering how long it will take to get the board formed and hadn’t heard anything yet. Ward 5 Councilor Victoria Foley said she’s spoken with several business owners who are waiting for more information from the city.

“There are a lot of people with questions and not a lot of answers yet,” Foley said.

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