March 16, 2010

Kennebunk works on downtown


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Courtesy rendering... An artist's rendering of a idea for redevelopment along Kennebunk's Main Street.

Staff Writer

A $12 million downtown improvement plan that could include brick sidewalks, new lighting and more landscaping will be discussed by Kennebunk officials this week.

Kennebunk's economic development and downtown committees teamed up last year to develop an overall plan to improve the downtown. In recent years, downtown work has been done in pieces, and town officials say the area has not seen a comprehensive improvement effort in decades.

Officials also believe future development along Route 1 north, a growing retail area, could provide competition and hurt the downtown unless improvements are made.

Selectmen heard cost estimates for the conceptual plan last week and will probably talk about the project at their meeting Tuesday, which begins at 5:45 p.m. at Town Hall on Summer Street.

The concepts presented by E.G. & G., the project consultant from Akron, Ohio, lay out a master plan for Kennebunk's downtown. The next step will be an engineering and design study to provide firm cost estimates. Town selectmen will then be able to decide how to accomplish the project in phases, and whether to move forward with all elements or just pieces of the plan.

''The concept plan is what people want to see,'' said Robert Georgitis, chairman of the town's economic development committee. ''Now we have choices.''

The two committees recommended that the town focus first on one portion of the downtown that stretches from Water Street to Bourne Street, said John Anderson, chair of the downtown rehabilitation steering committee.

That portion would cost about $5 million, according to estimates in the town's conceptual plan. It includes an outdoor pedestrian seating area near the intersection of Garden and Main streets, Anderson said. The intersection is now a large patch of asphalt that can be confusing to pedestrian and vehicle traffic and cause safety concerns, he said.

Town officials also hope improvements will help attract and retain retailers downtown, which currently has a couple of empty storefronts. ''To have that is not good,'' said Barry Tibbetts, town manager in Kennebunk. ''We want to make some improvements in curb appeal.''

Three years ago, the town created a tax-increment financing district, encompassing the downtown and a section of Route 1 North in Kennebunk, that dedicates additional property tax revenue generated in the districts to economic development there. Some of those funds can be used to match grants for the downtown project, Georgitis said. Many of E.G.& G's downtown projects in other municipalities have been funded without raising taxes, said Georgitis, and he believes Kennebunk can do the same.

The town's TIF fund currently has a balance of $164,000 and currently is projected to generate $260,000 annually.

Selectmen do not need voter approval to use TIF funds, but Selectman Albert Searles said the town will hold public hearings about this project before decisions are made.

The downtown engineering study alone could cost as much as 20 percent of the total project, according to the consultant's estimates. But Board of Selectmen Chairman Wayne Berry said he believes it can be done for less.

Staff Writer Anne Gleason can be contacted at 282-8229 or at:

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