SCARBOROUGH — The first step in designing a town center for The Downs is under way, and one developer said he’s excited to work with residents and see what they want.

Having had its first meeting on Jan. 7, the Downtown Advisory Committee is comprised of nine residents, The Downs developer representatives Rocco Risbara and Dan Bacon, and Town Council liaisons John Cloutier and Jonathan Anderson.

Interest in being on the Downtown Advisory Committee was high, with about 28 residents applying, said Town Manager Tom Hall.

“Since it purchased the land in 2018, The Downs development team has offered residents and Town leaders a seat at the planning table,” said a release from Diana Nelson of Black Fly Media. “Scarborough has assembled an ad-hoc committee to seek input and work collaboratively toward mutual goals with the development team. The committee is comprised of municipal leaders and residents, and its process will allow for a series of meetings and culminate in a ‘wish list’ to consider. The committee’s goal is to present a report to the town council by June 2021.”

Risbara said that developers have about 20 acres to work with for the Downtown area. The area is like a “blank canvas,” without any old buildings to work around.

“Scarborough’s in a very unique position,” he said. “The majority of towns, especially in Maine, do not get to build a town center. Most towns kind of have their own town center. And Scarborough, as it has evolved over the years, kind of had little village areas, but they’ve never had a town center. This is a unique and special thing that Scarborough gets to do, figure out what the town center ought to look like and what the amenities ought to be.”

Rocco Risbara of Crossroads Holdings, the company developing The Downs, photographed in the completed Phase One of the multi-use development in Scarborough on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

He is excited to receive citizen input, Risbara said, and added that the work with the new committee will fill one of the requirements in the credit enhancement agreement.

“It was part of our CEA, and it’s important for us to honor everything we agreed to,” Risbara said.

The town center will be mixed use, primarily commercial with some residential use, Risbara said.

“When I say that I mean there might be a building with three stories, and the first floor might be a restaurant or two, or a couple of shops and a restaurant, and the second floor might be office use,” he said. “The third floor could be apartments or condominiums, that kind of thing. We see the town center as having a lot of that type use in it.”

The committee will help decide where certain buildings, sidewalks or open space areas should be, Risbara said.

“If you ask anyone what goes into a town center, well, there’s going to be some commercial uses and some civic uses, probably ought to have some open space and obviously sidewalks,” he said. “What we’re looking for is more detail from the town committee to help us. Where should sidewalks go and what size should they be, what type of restaurant space do we need, and are we heavily restaurant?”

One of the more recent challenges of the project involves how COVID-19 has impacted businesses, Risbara said.

“I think COVID has impacted us and will continue to impact us for years to come,” he said. “Restaurants are doing business differently today. Retail is doing business differently. All businesses have been affected by this if you think about it. No one is doing business the same way they were in January of 2020. So we’ve seen what some of those changes are, and I think we need to make accommodations in this town center to be prepared to do business in the way it’s done today.”

He continued, “My personal feeling is, you know, COVID may get under control, but who knows what’s next. One thing I’ve learned in 40 plus years of being in business is you have to be willing to make changes and do things differently and keep up with the times before you’re out of business. The trick is going to be to come up with a layout of the town center that will evolve over time. That’s going to be very important.”

During the first meeting of the committee, which can be viewed on the town of Scarborough’s YouTube channel, members introduced themselves and reviewed the committee’s charge.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: