A rendering of what Westbrook Common will generally look like, incorporating sitting spaces, a recreation area and space for entertainment and other events. File photo

The first phase of the $1.2 million rehabilitation of Westbrook Common is slated to begin in a few weeks and residents may notice some changes in parking and traffic early on.

Some trees will be removed and five parking spaces in front of the small downtown plaza will be off limits as work starts to install underground electrical upgrades along the sidewalk, according to Deputy Economic Development Director Ashley Rand. The underground work on the utility infrastructure that is more than 100 years old will make up the bulk of the project.  The utility work will  may allow the scope of businesses on the common to expand, according to city officials.

The Westbrook Common sits empty Tuesday morning. Chance Viles / American Journal

The revamp of Westbrook Common has been discussed since since 2002. The project’s anticipated completion date is now 2023, after delays pushed it back from an initial target date of late this year.

Even though work hasn’t started, Economic Development Director Dan Stevenson said the project is already attracting inquiries from businesses eyeing Westbrook.

“This investment will demonstrate to the private sector we are investing in our own community and that’ll attract private sector investment,” Stevenson said. “The private sector invests in communities that invest in themselves. They see us upgrading ourselves and want to invest.”

Parking spaces will be set up at Saccarappa Park across Main Street from the Common in September to make up for the lost spaces, and traffic re-routing and delays may occur. Traffic reports will be posted with updates about how the work may interfere with travel.

“We are going with Seeing Orange Westbrook as the one source of communication. The website seeingorangewestbrook.com will go live the end of this month. It will be updated each Friday for the following week so the community knows what to expect for the following week,” Rand said.

All businesses around the Common will remain open and accessible.

The second phase of the project will pick up next spring, with more utility work and landscaping of the common itself. The third and final phase in the spring of 2023 will be the installation of a performance stage and the start of programming.

“It’s very dismal right now. The area needs revitalization and this project will do that,” City Council President Gary Rairdon told the American Journal. “I think that one of the things people enjoy is being out and with people, but it’s not vibrant there, and I think that at the completion of this project we will see a continuation of what’s at Vallee Square (across the street).”

Vallee Square has been used for outdoor dining and live music since last summer, when space was added for outdoor diners to alleviate some pressures restaurants felt from pandemic restrictions.

Northeast Credit Union has pledged $25,000 to go towards entertainment at the new Common.

Stevenson said the improvements will contribute to a “longer day” downtown.

“The more people working and living down there, the more come after hours,” Stevenson said. “So we can have a longer day. People get breakfast, lunch and dinner, then stay for our music when the Common is done.”

Stevenson said he hopes the changes will also attract more “destination” businesses to some of the empty storefronts, such as music or clothing stores.

“Our Common is highly visible and underutilized, but with the activation, it will become an anchor to our downtown,” he said.

No taxpayer money is slated to be used for the Westbrook Common revamp. Among the funding is $400,000 from the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corp. and $300,000 from the Cornelia Warren Foundation.

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