FAIRFIELD — Lots of little shops, a wide avenue running through the heart of Fairfield bordered by smooth sidewalks and large shade trees, increased parking, state-of-the-art lighting, paths and picnic tables along the Kennebec River — this is Fairfield’s vision of the future of the community’s downtown.
By the end of next week, town officials will submit a Quality Main Street Planning Grant to the state Office of Economic Development, seeking $400,000 to begin the revitalization. Selected communities will be notified by the end of March.
The new vision was created after a downtown market and design study was completed a year ago, partially funded by a state Community Development Block Grant, according to Economic Director Clyde Dyar on Thursday.
The study revealed that 14,000 vehicles a day pass through the downtown intersection, a four-way intersection that is Fairfield’s Main Street (Route 201) north to south, and Route 100, carried by three metal bridges across the Kennebec, from east to west. Because of the traffic problem, the Maine Department of Transportation is spending $200,000 to design a new bridge crossing.
Part of the bridge redesign will be a widening of Fairfield’s Main Street to allow a better traffic flow. The proposed Quality Main Street changes will mesh with the MDOT bridge replacment plans. Although the bridge may not be completed for up to 10 years, the QMS plan could be activitated as soon as approved and put out to bid by the end of September.
“We see a whole new structured downtown,” said Dyar.
Because the entire revitalization must take the location of the new bridge into consideration — it will be several hundred feet north of its current span — at least one major Fairfield road will also be relocated.
“We will have to realign Lawrence Avenue,” said Dyar, “to line it up with the future bridge.”
In addition, Main Street will include a center turning lane, new street lighting and several buildings are proposed to be purchased by the town and demolished for additional parking. A bike path and seating areas will be constructed along the Kennebec, to the rear of the downtown businesses.
“We are very excited. Timing is everything, and we think we are hitting the timeline on the head,” said Dyar. “The vision is to create a downtown for small, unique businesses, sort of like Hallowell, while still serving the basic needs of the community.”
Dyar said Fairfield’s immediate access to Route 201 and Interstate 95 make it a perfect location for business development.
In addition, the niche-type businesses will be serving the hundreds of students at Kennebec Valley Technical College and the commuters that pass through Fairfield on their way to work in Skowhegan and Waterville.
“We believe that this project will leverage another several million dollars in private investments by local business owners,” he added.
Already, changes are underway on Fairfield’s Main Street. A grocery store, the first one in town in several years, is opening on the south end of the street, while Skowhegan Savings Bank is in the process of buying the downtown branch of Key Bank.
“Fairfield, especially the downtown, is an area in transition, an area of solid, forward growth,” said Dyar.