JOURNAL TRIBUNE/File PhotoBiddeford Mayor Alan Casavant addresses the crowd before cutting the ribbon on Laconia Plaza on Thursday. Brad Favreau, economic development coordinator, is shown at left.

JOURNAL TRIBUNE/File PhotoBiddeford Mayor Alan Casavant addresses the crowd before cutting the ribbon on Laconia Plaza on Thursday. Brad Favreau, economic development coordinator, is shown at left.

BIDDEFORD — Less than a decade ago, plans for a walkway along the Saco River and through the city’s mill district were just a dream. Since then, several phases of the Biddeford RiverWalk have been completed. On Nov. 9, City Council approved nearly $200,000 to hire an engineering firm to come up with preliminary plans for the completion of the walkway.

Without comment, City Council voted unanimously to contract with Wright-Pierce for preliminary design work for the RiverWalk. The cost is $195,000, and will be funded through the Route 111-Mill Redevelopment Municipal Development and Tax Increment Financing District, which is funded through fees on new property value within the TIF district.

When completed, the RiverWalk will span from Mechanics Park, at the corner of Main and Water streets, and to Diamond Match Park, which is across Elm Street off Gooch Street.

The first phase of the RiverWalk was completed in 2012, said City Planner Greg Tanslsy. It begins at Mechanics Park, crosses over Main Street to the mill district and includes an overlook. Other phases include expansion of the walkway and a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Saco River and connects to the Saco RiverWalk. The last phase, which was completed earlier this year, was Laconia Plaza, which is where the design work will begin.

Future phases of the walk include: a Saco Falls Boardwalk, Falls Plaza, Riverdam Boardwalk, Riverdam Connector, Pearl Plaza, Spring Island Boardwalk and Connector, Elm Street Crossing, Diamond Street Connector and Boardwalk, and overland connections of the RiverWalk to Main Street and Lincoln Street.

According to documents supplied by Wright Pierce, as part of the planning process the firm will conduct a topographic/utility survey that will show conditions of the area where work will be conducted, including locations of manmade infrastructure such as sewers, driveways, sidewalks, and more. The firm will also hold a public meeting and stakeholders meetings.

Once the preliminary design work is completed, which will likely take place by May, other tasks will take place such as meeting with mill district property owners.

“Much of the (the RiverWalk) is on private land,” said Tansley. The city must get easements from the owners to complete the project. 

Tansley said he’s confident that such easements can be negotiated. “We have written or verbal agreements with the city from all the mill owners,” he said.

Once this work is done, final design plans and bidding documents can be prepared.

Ideally, this work will be completed December 2018 so that work could begin in spring 2019, said Tansley.

How to pay for the completion of the RiverWalk has not been decided. Much of the earlier phases have been paid for through grants.

Once design work is completed, “That puts us in a very good position as grants become available to go after that grant money,” said Tansley.

Whether or not the council will approve spending city money on the project is unknown.

However, said Tansley, “There is every indication that they’ll continue to support it.”

“There’s a lot of excitement” about the project, he said, adding that he thinks councilors believe “and I agree that something like a river walk can be an economic catalyst and  pay for itself many times over.”

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


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