The City of Biddeford has released this conceptual rendering of the Pearl Street Riverfront District, courtesy of Fathom Companies. Courtesy Image/City of Biddeford

BIDDEFORD — The city’s vision for a more attractive, robust mill and riverside district in downtown Biddeford has been given a boost by the injection of $1.2 million in federal funding to help with the area’s revitalization.

Maine’s Congressional delegation announced on Friday that the U.S. Economic Development Administration has awarded a matching grant under its public works program, which will help the city with a road reconstruction project and other improvements.

Specifically, the grant will help Biddeford reconstruct about 900 linear feet of Pearl Street from its intersection with Lincoln Street to the Saco River and the Biddeford RiverWalk, and will include traffic calming bump outs, parallel parking spaces, a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk, storm drainage, underground conduit for electric, telecommunications and internet lines, and upgrading of an estimated 465 linear feet of sewer lines. City leaders said most of the city’s required $1.2 million match will come from Tax Increment Financing funds — tax money derived from new property value – with the rest from paving and storm sewer budgets.

Symbolically, it is more than that.

“From a pragmatic point of view, the grant will help to repair a degraded roadway that sits in the middle of massive redevelopment, but it is more than that, as it will be another piece in the downtown mill district puzzle that through investment and design will attract more residents, shoppers, and diners, into a desirable, inviting ambience and space,” said Mayor Alan Casavant in an email. “By connecting with the RiverWalk, the mill spaces, and the downtown, people will have a connected place to go for all of their pleasures and needs.”

City officials say recent development  in the Pearl Street area sparked the need for improvements to the roadway and utilities. Once completed,  further economic growth and development in the area  — and with it, job creation — is expected.

The city’s new 640-space parking garage, off Pearl Street, is set to open by July. A Joint Development Agreement with the project partners allowed  construction without residential property tax dollars and with no impact on Biddeford’s tax rate. The agreement also includes the financial support for a new section of the Biddeford RiverWalk.

As well, Biddeford has entered into a Master Plan Agreement with B.E. Fitler, LLC for the development of the city-owned property on both sides of the parking garage for a mix of residential, retail, office, hospitality, education and service use.

City officials estimate that once complete, the project will create as many as 645 new jobs in downtown Biddeford, increasing the job base by 5 percent.

“We are thrilled and honored that the EDA has elected to support the vision for the Pearl Street Riverfront District,” said Jim Brady and Brian Eng, the development team behind BE Fitler, LLC  in a news release issued by the city. “These funds will catalyze our collective effort to create Maine’s most walkable, transit-oriented 24-hour complete neighborhood. Residents and visitors to downtown Biddeford will be able to live, work and play in the vibrant, thoughtfully designed Pearl Street Riverfront District thanks to the EDA’s support.”

Biddeford Communications Coordinator Danica Lamontagne said Riverdam Mill,  at the end of Pearl Street will also benefit. When all phases are complete, the Riverdam Mill complex will consist of  four  commercial spaces and 71 apartments, with seven units listed at workforce housing rates.

“An improved Pearl Street is critical to unlock a fabulous piece of Biddeford’s downtown river frontage that has been underutilized for many years,” said John Laliberte of Port Property Management. “Pearl Street redevelopment is particularly important to the long term success of the Riverdam mixed-use project located on the river’s edge at the end of Pearl Street.”

He said Riverdam retailers, including Blaze Brewery & Restaurant and Stonefort, “look forward to a lively, energetic atmosphere made possible by the improvements.”

Casavant thanked those all those involved.

“Getting funding for this type of grant is not easy,” Casavant noted. “It takes a great deal of data, attention to detail, and a creative, workable plan of action. “The project that city staff put together is another important piece in the puzzle of the ongoing development of the mill and downtown districts. I would like to thank the EDA for providing funding to make this project possible, and specifically Alan Brigham for his assistance during the application process, as well as Senator Collins, Senator King and Congresswoman Pingree for their support of the project.”

The Congressional delegation and  Maine Gov. Janet Mills  weighed in.

“Biddeford’s creative, future-focused thinking is an excellent example of how former mill towns across Maine are working to revitalize their economies,” said U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree in a joint statement. “This grant from the Economic Development Administration to improve access to small businesses, jobs, and housing in Biddeford’s downtown and redeveloped former mill buildings will draw Mainers, visitors, and entrepreneurs to this great city. We are excited to see the heart of the Biddeford community grow with this investment over the next decade.”

Mills said she was pleased the federal agency has recognized the hard work of the city of Biddeford in its efforts to revitalize the mill district.

“This investment by the Biden Administration will help Biddeford continue these important efforts by rebuilding roads and increasing access to local shopping and dining, all while creating jobs and strengthening the economy — a win-win,” said Mills.

 

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