A mock up of a street -side bakery in an empty store front on Washington Avenue was part of a block party event in the Old Orchard Beach neighborhood in June. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune file photo

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Old Orchard Beach Community Friendly Connection was one of six recipients in Maine to receive an AARP Community Challenge Grant.

The grant program received nearly 1,700 applicants nationwide from nonprofit organizations and government entities. About $1.6 million will be distributed among 159 grant winners to fund projects that help communities make immediate improvements and jump start long-term progress to support residents of all ages.

Old Orchard Beach Community Friendly Connection, a community group that strives to make the town a great place to live and work for people of all ages, received $10,000 toward an effort to enhance the Atlantic Courts Park and revitalize the Washington Avenue district.

Assistant Town Manager and OOB Community Friendly Connection Chairwoman V. Louise Reid said in the late 1950s, there was a drugstore, meat market, appliance store and a “five and dime” store in the Washington Street neighborhood.

“I remember this neighborhood being the center of Old Orchard,” said Reid.

Over the years, the area has changed, and many of the small shops that drew people to the are no longer.

Reid said members of the community would like to see the Washington Avenue district be the hub it once was.

OOB Friendly Connection has worked with AARP and urban planning experts Team Better Block to help envision a revitalization of the Washington Avenue area. A block party was hosted last month in the Washington Avenue district that was attended by nearly 250 people, and the event featured a “mock up” illustration of a bakery with street seating in the vacant 20 Washington Ave. space.

As part of the revitalization, OOB Community Friendly Connection would like to make some enhancements to Atlantic Courts Park, a small park on Atlantic Avenue. The group would like to see other features to the park in addition to the current basketball court, and envision sitting areas, a possible play area and a circuit of outdoor exercise stations.

A new restaurant is moving onto Washington Avenue and Community Friendly Connection members also say they would love to see a bakery or coffee shop move into vacant space at 20 Washington Ave. that could become a vital part of the neighborhood.

Holly Korda, OOB Community Friendly Connection development volunteer, said getting the grant from AARP and knowing the organization is investing in the local project gives validation to what the community group is doing.

“They’re saying ‘we believe in what you’re doing, and what you’re doing is great. We want to be part of it, too,” said Korda.

OOB Community Friendly Connection has also received a $5,000 grant toward the revitalization project, and several years ago a local neighborhood group raised $900 to be used toward improvements for the Atlantic Courts Park.

Additionally, the town, community organizations and numerous volunteers have given their support to the project. Reid said she is talking with local and national officials from the Salvation Army, as the local church is part of the Washington Avenue area neighborhood, to make them aware of the group’s plans.

OOB Community Friendly Connection plans to have another block celebration in the fall to kick off the revitalization project and clean up the park.

“The idea is to get everybody involved. “This is a neighborhood event. The neighborhood has been involved in the planning of it, and now needs to be involved in the real development and sustainment of it,” said Korda.

Community members who are interested in getting involved in the project should email [email protected], and write CFC in the subject line.

Other projects that received funding through the AARP Community Challenge Grant program in Maine were a tool library in Mount Vernon, a traveling tool table in Blue Hill, library enhancements in Waldo County, walking trail upgrades in Portland and improvements to a walking and biking trail in Presque Isle.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected].

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