MACHIAS – What does downtown Machias have that other towns don’t, besides scrumptious pie at Helen’s Restaurant?
That was the question posed to more than 30 people who met Tuesday evening to talk about the future of the town’s downtown.
Several answers pointed to what many consider the true treasure of Machias, the Bad Little Falls in the center of town.
“It’s unique to have the falls there,” concurred Christine Therrien, the town manager. “That’s what many people think is most special.”
The meeting in the community room of the Machias Savings Bank was the first chance for the public to comment on what they’d like to see downtown.
The town is teaming with the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sunrise County Economic Council to start a revitalization effort.
Leaders from the three are working toward an Aug. 1 deadline to put together a grant application to the State Planning Office to receive a planning grant in the $10,000 range.
Once the planning grant comes through in September, there will be another public meeting to accept the grant. That’s a formality more than anything, but it also would give the public a follow-up opportunity to talk about the downtown’s future.
Tuesday’s meeting drew many new people who haven’t previously been active in town matters. The audience also featured a range of ages and interests.
“We got a spectrum of the community,” said Louise West, executive director of the chamber of commerce.
“We had artists, business people, residents. It was fun for all of us to think big along the same lines. What could our downtown be?
“What could it be if the university [University of Maine at Machias] grew to 2,000 or even 2,500 students? What if the hospital [Down East Community Hospital] had 125 beds?”
There was a common call to enhance Machias’ waterfront as a showcase for the town. Many considered a rail-to-trails effort an important development as the town sorts through its new priorities.
What the Machias “downtown” actually covers was a big discussion point, too. Some cast it as the portion of U.S. Route 1 (Main Street) between the bridge at Bad Little Falls to the causeway beyond Helen’s Restaurant.
Others cast it as starting at the Blueberry Ford business. Some believed the downtown included the town’s most historic streets, residences and churches.
Much of 2006 would be used to further develop a real plan for downtown, whatever the perimeters. Then the town would look toward a $400,000 or so Community Development Block Grant to pursue some of the projects.
Therrien said the meeting had many positive outcomes.
“It was really nice to have the wide spectrum of people with varying opinions,” she said. “It generated some ideas and different perspectives on what people want to see, whether it involves recreation or business or even safety issues.
“It’s just important to have good participation at this point.”