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July 29, 2013

Photo courtesy of Linda Waters

People of all ages participate in the 2012 Bacon Street Neighborhood Festival in downtown Biddeford. This year’s event will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is free and open to the public.

Biddeford neighborhood set to sizzle

By Deborah Sayer
dsayer@pressherald.com
News Assistant

Linda Waters has a habit of viewing Biddeford's Bacon Street neighborhood through rose-colored glasses -- both figuratively and literally.

Waters is the city's community development coordinator, an overseer of its annual Bacon Street Neighborhood Festival and the face behind the fesitval's mascot, the Bacon Street Fairy.

Waters' persona has become a fixture at the festival that celebrates families and promotes community pride.

Next Sunday, she'll arrive at the sixth annual event decked out in a tutu, crown, wings and the aforementioned eyeware.

It's a role Waters gladly accepts because putting on a positive community face is a major aspect of her job.

Waters works with residents, city officials, businesses and community service providers to generate interest in a neighborhood revitalization campaign that also encompasses Sullivan and High streets and Piersons Lane.

Once a vibrant area inhabited by working families and countless niche businesses, the neighborhood went into decline due to a poor economy that left many tenements neglected and in foreclosure. Criminal activity escalated and the neighborhood was considered one of the worst in the city.

Then, several years ago, Waters, other city officials and residents began meeting in the basement of the old St. Andre's Church to map a strategy to turn the neighborhood around, making it a safe place to live and instilling a sense of pride in the area again.

"Our goal is to develop a comprehensive plan for this neighborhood, to bring crime down and make this a nice area that offers affordable housing for working families who are struggling to get by," said Waters.

The group's neighborhood improvement plan ties into the city's comprehensive plan to develop the downtown area into a thriving business and family-friendly community by addressing housing, landscape and amenity issues to bring about lasting changes for the area.

Waters said progress has been slow but steady as more people become invested in the vision for a better Biddeford.

She praised non-profits like the Stone Soup Food Pantry and Joyful Harvest, which offer meal assistance and children's programming for area families. Both agencies have worked to remain active community resources despite struggling to secure consistent funding to keep their doors open.

Waters also praised residents like Denise Dyer, who chose to stay in the area and work to improve the neighborhood.

Dyer, who purchased her home in the dead of winter seven years ago, had a rude awakening when seasonable summer temperatures arrived and her daily drive took her past a crowd of 50 or more teenagers who congregated at a corner near her house.

She also recalled, not very fondly, standing on her porch one Sunday and hearing a confluence of noise that included music from a church service up the street, country music blaring from a neighbor's back yard and someone yelling a string of expletives from yet another direction.

Dyer found solace in being active. She began attending community action meetings and was encouraged to see the input being acted upon.

Among the improvements she cited was the presence of a police officer at the youths' favorite gathering spot; the crowds soon dispersed.

"I give kudos to Linda for offering those meetings," said Dyer. "There is still a lot of work to do to turn things around, but the area has improved considerably."

The neighborhood group also has been involved in community-wide projects to reclaim, restore or convert spaces into parks, a community garden and playground.

More recently, the city bought a three-story building at 46 Sullivan St. to provide affordable housing for two families and establish the Canopy Park Resource Center.

The center is overseen by Community Partners for Protecting Children, which connects residents with community resources and services for children and families.

The progress and improvements will be showcased as the festival unfolds Sunday.

The event is free and open to the public, with activities provided by non-profits and businesses lining the Bacon Street sidewalks.

The area will be closed to vehicle traffic from High Street to Piersons Lane from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with activities beginning at noon.

Highlights include live music, pony rides, games, food, a puppet show, petting zoo, a dunk tank, contests, prizes and costumed characters, including Waters wearing her rose-colored glasses.

"This is a continuing grassroots event that capstones all the work done in the neighborhood in a year," noted Waters. "The participation from the neighborhood, organizations and businesses is incredible. We are looking forward to having a great time."

For more festival details or a schedule of events and sponsor list, go to www.biddefordmaine.org.

Organizations and/or people interested in volunteering may call 284-9105 or email Waters at lwaters@biddefordmaine.org.

The event will be held rain or shine.

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com





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