There doesn’t seem to be very much happening in downtown Gray these days, but Main Street is poised for dynamic change.

Monument Square, where Main Street and Route 26 converge, borders a sizable chunk of strategic land that has sat dormant and largely unsettled for years. But in a touch of irony, this latency has made the proposed transformation all the more certain. As Town Manager Deb Cabana puts it, “The town of Gray is on the cusp of becoming all that she was intended to be.”

Town officials and a family foundation now have a vision on this seemingly forgotten block of land.
On Route 26, Monument Square contains the long dormant 1960s-era former post office and old town hall, as well as Stimson Hall, a building on the national historic register. Along Main Street there is a deserted gas station and dated shopping center. Behind these is a baseball field and elementary school.

With a beautiful new town hall on Main Street, the town decided to put the old town hall and post office on the market. But after nearly two years with the region’s top two commercial brokerage firms, only one serious offer materialized. When investors discovered the limitations of the properties, particularly parking, they quickly lost interest.

What was once the heart of Gray Village became an ugly example of a stagnant community, and no one seemed particularly charmed to resurrect it.

Ever since the close of World War II, Gray has been built, more or less, around a single entity – the automobile. The Maine Turnpike exit came to town in 1955 and several gas stations soon followed, displacing much of the town’s original character. Fast food restaurants only multiplied this effect.
Now two gas stations at major intersections are either closed or no longer choose to sell gas.

Faced with a downtown on life-support, town officials realized the entire area needed a revival.
“In 2010 we hired an outside consultant and sent a postcard to every taxpayer in town to come and attend an all-day brainstorming session,” Cabana said. “Between 50 and 60 people attended.”
Leaders asked what folks would like to do with the old properties.

“We dreamed,” Cabana said. “We were reaching for the sky.”

These visions are outlined in a report on the town’s website (graymaine.org) and run the gamut from conservative to full-scale transformation, including new buildings and shared parking with a path to a revitalized ball field that would make Monument Square the focus of the town’s new identity. Stimson Hall would remain, but the other town properties will likely go.

The town got a boost when Rick Liberty saw a sketch in the new town office. He soon alerted town resident and Liberty Family Foundation president, Michael Liberty.

“We’re now in the infant stages of pursuing that vision,” Cabana said. “We’re hoping within this next year that we’re going to see a reality to our vision.”

One of the first of these stages was a draft letter of agreement approved by the Town Council on March 6 outlining affected landowners and procedural steps to accomplish the master plan.
Like other towns, Cabana said Gray needs to focus on the future, and points to the successful revival of the Henry Pennell Complex.

“Gray has been largely dormant when all of the communities around her have been developing,” she said, “and yet we sit strategically in the center of Cumberland County, and even the lower half of the state. We are equal distances between Portland and Lewiston.”

Officials are very much aware that a redeveloped Monument Square will need more than nice landscaping and building facades to succeed. Gray will need to offer amenities making it a destination, one that will cause people get off the turnpike for more than a soda and a tank of gas.
Future public meetings are planned.

“We have to have some novelty shops here that are a destination,” Cabana said. “We very much desire for our downtown to be pedestrian-friendly and are hoping to encourage recreation with a state-of-the-art, world-class little league ball field with shops around it.”

Folks at Liberty think Stimson Hall could perhaps become a theater.

Gray is poised for change.

For more information visit the town’s website at graymaine.org and click on Monument Square Master Plan.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:
[email protected]