A rendering of what the common will generally look like, incorporating sitting spaces, a recreation area and space for entertainment and other events. Courtesy image / City of Westbrook

WESTBROOK — Designs are expected to be completed this month for a long-awaited revamp of Westbrook Common, a “highly visible” public space that is “underused, drab and in disrepair,” the city’s economic development director said.

The $1.2 million upgrade to the downtown Main Street park is designed to change that, said Economic Development Director Dan Stevenson. Plans call for well-placed seating, recreational yards that will allow for multiple uses and programs, a stage area for live performances and space around the area for food trucks.

“It’s highly visible and in our center but is completely underused, and it’s in disrepair,” Stevenson said. “When it’s reconstructed, it will also take care of the low-grade issues like the very old water line running through it. It will upgrade those infrastructure pieces. Then it is designed for public use and activation and can drive people to the center of our downtown.”

The city first started discussing the need to make better use of the commons through an upgrade in 2002.

Stevenson hopes some construction can start “in the next month or two,” he said, but the goal is to undertake most of the work in 2021.

Once the design is finished this month, work can really begin.

“These design drawings and engineering documents will then be used to solicit bids from contractors to construct the Westbrook Common project,” said city project manager Robyn Saunders. “Based on the range of bids received in early 2021, we’ll have a better idea of the cost to construct the project and whether or not we will need more funding in order to proceed with construction of the project in 2021.”

Stevenson said he thinks the city will be set financially for the project without any taxpayer help, but any shortfall should be relatively easy to raise.

“We’ve raised most of the funding at this point,” he said. “We think this will be about a $1.2 million project. We have about $800,000 of that right now in hand.”

The Cornelia Warren Memorial Foundation has pledged $300,000 with another $400,000 coming from the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corp. Future sales of some city property should bring in another $100,000, he said. When construction is complete, Northeast Credit Union has pledged a $25,000 donation for programming, such as yoga classes and concerts and other live performances, he said.

“This is a major investment that will evolve our downtown, and really bring people in while we work on the River Walk and other things,” Stevenson said. “This is really what will make our downtown as vibrant as it needs to be.”

This project will go hand in hand with future improvements to the River Walk and possible upgrades to nearby parks aimed at making downtown Westbrook more of a destination.

“We want to look at Saccarappa Park next and get that four-season open-air pavilion similar to the one in Kennebunk called ‘the Waterhouse,'” Stevenson said. “These are public sector investments that will bring people downtown and support people who are already invested here.”

Westbrook Common was built in the mid-1970s, according to city historian and former Mayor Mike Sanphy.

In September 2019, the city sought residents’ input on their vision for the underused public space.

The American Journal sat in the common for three hours Nov. 15, without a single person taking advantage of it.

“I am excited we are finally making changes in this area as our downtown evolves,” Mayor Mike Foley said. “Making investments in our community is important to people in the private sector as well, it’s definitely moving in the right direction.”

The Westbrook Common, in the heart of downtown, has some sculptures and seating, but generally sees few to no one actually spending time there. Chance Viles / American Journal

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: