BIDDEFORD — Forming partnerships, and holding events and promotions are just some of the actions that are useful in revitalizing downtowns, according to leaders of local business organizations.

Downtown revitalization was the topic of the first Dirigo Talk, which took place Thursday at the Engine gallery on Main Street. Engine is a nonprofit arts organization based in Biddeford.

Dirigo Talks is a community-driven speaking series that features local leaders “to share their big ideas at intimate venues,” according to the Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement.

Dirigo Talks is a program of the Saco Bay Center. The mission of the center, founded by state Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, is to foster a lifelong commitment to citizenship and social responsibility.

The center focuses on community, said Luke Nielson, a center board member and chair of Dirigo Talks.

“We want people to be involved in their community because we believe that creates a vibrant community,” he said.

During Dirigo Talks each speaker is given 10 to 15 minutes to talk about the topic of the day.

The first speaker on Thursday was Delilah Poupore, executive director of the downtown revitalization organization Heart of Biddeford.

The HOB’s main purposes are to support existing businesses in Biddeford’s downtown, said Poupore, and recruit new businesses.

HOB utilizes a whole host of activities to help Biddeford’s downtown, said Poupore, like hosting promotional events to bring people to the downtown; beautifying the downtown; supporting current businesses with networking and informational events; and recruiting new businesses with incentive programs, providing personal tours of the vacant storefronts and providing information on the necessary steps in dealing with city government when starting a new business.

Saco Spirit’s Executive Director Nadeen DeSilva and President Johanna Hoffman said the Saco downtown revitalization organization conducts similar activities as its Biddeford counterpart.

DeSilva did note one difference. She said when the Saco organization started, most of the storefronts on Main Street were filled, so it has concentrated its efforts on attracting more people to the downtown businesses through events like the Pumpkin Harvest Festival and the Holiday Festival.

Saco Spirit also has many programs, said Hoffman, like a flower program to make the downtown more attractive, a buy local program to encourage people to frequent local businesses and a breakfast club where business owners can network and get information that affects their business.

Networking is important, said Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce and Industry Board Member CJ Dubois-Cote. She said the chamber hosts a number of events that promote networking.

Being a chamber member “has really helped my business grow,” said Dubois-Cote, who is a real estate agent.

Engine founder and Executive Director Tammy Ackerman said although her organization is an arts organization, its mission is to propel the creative economy. A founding philosophy for Engine, she said, is that “commerce follows culture.”

Ackerman spoke about how the arts can spur revitalization of a downtown. For instance, she said, Engine hosts art programs that bring people to Biddeford’s downtown.

She also discussed the gift of the former Reny’s department store building to Engine by the Reny family and how the arts organization plans to eventually redevelop this prime piece of real estate on Main Street.

More Dirigo Talks with local leaders on different subjects are planned for the future, said Nielson.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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