BIDDEFORD — For years, many in the Biddeford area have complained that the city’s downtown has been stagnant.

But in the past two years, development in that area has grown, said Delilah Poupore, executive director of the downtown revitalization organization Heart of Biddeford.

“As growth happens,” she said, “We want to make sure that we sustain what’s important to the people who grew Biddeford.”

To discuss issues of sustainability, Heart of Biddeford and the arts organization Engine will present a series of community discussions called “Sustain Biddeford.”

The first discussion was held on Wednesday.

Poupore noted that in the past two years, 19 new businesses have opened up on Main Street and the surrounding area.

More businesses, like the 130-seat restaurant Portland Pie pizza shop, have opened or will soon be opening in the Pepperell Center, a building in the city’s mill district that is located on Main Street.

Growth is happening faster than expected, said Poupore. Developers anticipated that the 144,000 square foot Pepperell Center would take two years to fill, she said ”“ instead it took only nine months.

In addition, more than 100 new residential units have been created in the mill district, which is a short walk to the downtown. More are in the works.

Growth in the city center is good news to many, but an upturn in development can also have negative effects, such as gentrification, she noted, which can price out those who were there first.

Figuring out ways to sustain the values and people who already live, work and own businesses in the downtown as growth occurs is important, said Poupore.

One way to do it is through creative economy cooperatives, said Jonah Fertig, the founder of Cooperative Fermentation, who was the first Sustain Biddeford speaker.

His organization’s mission, according to the Cooperative Fermentation website, is to “democratize our food system through creating cooperatives in food and farming.”

“Cooperative Fermentation seeks to accelerate the growth of cooperatives,” according to the website. “Much like the helpful bacteria that ferments ordinary cabbage into delicious kraut, our work will bring communities together to create new projects that meet the needs of the people. Creating jobs, providing food, increasing economic security, building community and ”˜fermenting’ inspiration for Maine.”

During his talk, Fertig presented examples of how creative economy cooperatives can help revitalize a downtown.

He also talked about cooperative property ownership models like co-op housing and community land trusts.

Cooperatives are just one way to sustain those currently in Biddeford’s downtown, said Poupore. More ideas will be discussed in future presentations, she said.

Topics and dates for futures Sustain Biddeford discussions are to be determined.

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

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