April 02, 2020

Houlton to host ’07 Maine downtown forum

HOULTON – While residents here are already preparing to mark a major milestone for the town next year, municipal officials received news late last week that another notable event also will take place in Houlton around the same time – the seventh annual Maine Downtown Conference.

The Maine Downtown Center, a program of the Maine Development Foundation, announced late last week that Houlton will be the location of next year’s Maine Downtown Conference.

The center offers training and technical assistance to communities across the state that are striving to revitalize their commercial downtown districts.

The convention will offer a multitude of workshops related to downtown revitalization, and the sessions will be held in different locations throughout downtown Houlton.

Supporters of the conference include Key Bank, Northern Maine Development Commission, Aroostook Partners for Progress and the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce.

This will be Houlton’s inaugural performance as host of the event. Previous conferences have been held in Waterville, Bath, Auburn, Bangor, Saco and Belfast.

A date for the conference is still being decided, but officials speculated Monday that it would be held sometime next spring.

MDC Program Director Lori Allen said that she visited Houlton for the first time in April and was “astounded at both the beauty and potential” of historic Market Square.

“As a statewide organization, we are committed to bringing our programming to all parts of the state, and we are fortunate that Houlton is willing to host us,” Allen continued in a written statement.

Next year also will be significant for the town because it marks its 200th birthday. The 2007 bicentennial fete will be held two centuries after Joseph Houlton and his wife, Sarah, founded the town in 1807.

Don Keiser, the town’s grant writer and planning administrator, said that the town is “delighted” to be hosting the conference, particularly in its bicentennial year.

He said that town officials were “looking forward to hosting visitors from around the state” and showing them what the historic downtown has to offer.

Next year’s conference will shine a statewide spotlight on an area of town that officials say deserves more attention.

Approximately two years ago, town officials launched a full-court press geared toward promoting Market Square.

Town councilors began by adopting a 105-page downtown revitalization plan, a blueprint for revamping Market Square that offered ideas to design, organize and market an area that consultants pegged as “a secret that Houlton probably keeps too close.”

Officials then formed a downtown committee, which has met steadily since last year to focus on recommendations made in the report.

Since its formation, the group has worked diligently to draft a downtown tax increment financing proposal. Tagged as an economic development device, the TIF aims to enhance and entice investment in a specific portion of a town.

They also have brainstormed ideas to lure more motorists off Interstate 95 and into Market Square while also working to secure funding to revamp downtown building facades.

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