UNITY — Dozens of residents convened Sunday to brainstorm on a growing matter: how to make Unity a destination.

And the talk may soon blossom into concrete proposals and action, town officials hope.

Gathering input Sunday were the town’s Economic Development Committee and GrowSmart Maine, an organization that works with communities to spur economic development and revitalization while preserving aspects of a town that residents already like. The groups hope to soon move beyond envisioning and brainstorming to start working on projects.

Committee member Joe Saltalamachia, who also works as director of admissions at Unity College, spoke at the beginning of the meeting about how people had been discussing the need for a hotel in town. Most people who come to visit the college, he said, stay in nearby Belfast or Waterville.

“Next week, I have 40 families visiting,” he said. “Those are 40 families that are going to take their business to another town.”

Leaming said the committee, which is more than a year old, has been discussing the idea of a hotel for a while, but they decided to “take one step back” and look at the bigger picture.

“What does it mean to be a destination?” she said in an interview.

Unity residents started to answer that question during the brainstorming session facilitated by Nancy Smith, executive director of GrowSmart. People in the audience described a destination as a place with a brand, a place that’s welcoming and a place that’s good-looking. While they named many benefits of becoming a destination – a larger tax base, an ability to attract a more diverse populace, a thriving climate for businesses – they also talked about what they didn’t want to lose, such as the town’s peace and quiet, its ecology and its affordability.

Smith said the next step would be to get specific. GrowSmart would hold another community meeting to lay out specific ideas from the first and get feedback, which would serve as the basis for phase 2 of the project, she said. In phase 2, GrowSmart will bring in expertise for the town as it navigates turning some of the ideas into reality.

What comes to fruition will depend largely on who’s willing to do what, Smith said.

“We’re looking for what are the ideas that have commitment in a community,” she said.

GrowSmart has completed work with 10 towns so far and is working with four more, including Unity, Smith said. Most towns need more help coming up with a vision, she said, so they start with smaller projects. For example, in Wilton, the town decided to put up a fence around the library so it could safely hold outdoor programs for children, and now it’s also a spot for concerts.

Because Unity’s residents already have put some thought into what they want, Smith said she expects the outcome to be “more significant.”

There are no definite plans for any projects yet, Leaming said, but she hopes that this community process with GrowSmart “generates excitement.”

“We’re really dependent on this grass-roots energy,” she said. “We’re tired of talking about things.”

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: madelinestamour

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