Focused Discussion #6: Growing Our Local Economy Gardiner H&S and Comprehensive Plan

The Comprehensive Plan Committee and the Heart & Soul Community Action Team hosted a focused discussion on June 6th to solicit ideas for what the community and City can do to promote economic growth and development in Gardiner. The discussion was held at the Gardiner Public Library. A group of about 25 people participated in the discussion. Most of the participants were people who have been active in the H&S process. The event opened with brief overviews of the purpose of the focused discussion and the H&S process including the draft Community Vision. This was followed by a presentation by Nate Rudy, the City’s Director of Economic and Community Development who reviewed the City’s current economic development programs, current activities, and issues facing the local economy. Participants were then asked to share their ideas for what the City and community can do to continue and enhance the growth of the Gardiner economy. People’s ideas and comments were recorded on a flip chart and are reported below:

June 6, 2013
  • Concerned about property taxes and sewer fees – what do we get for them?
  • We need to bring in businesses to reduce property taxes
  • The lowest cost of entry for businesses is home businesses, followed by a location in downtown, followed by a Brunswick Ave location, and then the Libby Hill Business Park
  • Use of historic preservation tax credits is a possibility – City should provide help to property owners to understand the programs and get through the MHPC process and paperwork
  • Opportunity in wood pellet manufacturing – Note: The City is using wood pellets for some of its heating
  • Extension of natural gas is a plus – need to help property owners in considering the  economics of conversion
  • Need a coop retail food outlet
  • Need to provide more flexibility for home-based businesses – opportunities for mixed-use in larger homes
  • Gardiner is a good location for distribution-related businesses – opportunity to also attract business services like Carbonite in Lewiston
  • There is the potential for manufacturing durable goods – should be a target for economic development efforts
  • Production of local/regional food and food products has the potential to be an economic driver – ability to supply restaurants that want to locally source their supplies
  • Establish a local money/scrip program that can be used in local businesses – Farmers Market has $1 coins that can be used at market vendors
  • Establish a Buy Local program – have discounts or points for purchases with card
  • Create a local “smart phone app” that can be used to pay in local businesses
  • Promote/expand the existing “Gift or Gardiner” program – a check that can be used at any local business
  • Consider the use of business recruitment teams made up of local business/financial people to work with staff
  • Gardiner has to address two issue:
    • The demographic trend of an aging population that makes it necessary to attract younger people to the community
    • The cost and availability of energy especially for transportation that makes it essential to reduce travel distances and increase the density at the core of the City
  • Focus on establishing Gardiner as a place that you want to go to – the historic core is one building block linked to the residential neighborhoods and open space
  • Need to connect the components of the community in a different way:
    • Create a downtown pedestrian zone
    • Think of it as an “outdoor room” that connects to the Cobbossee, the river, and the residential neighborhoods
  • Explore the “Creative Village” initiative used in Oregon with university students – create a partnership with UMA
  • Explore how to market Gardiner in association with the new Augusta hospital
  • Johnson Hall connected to the waterfront park and new partnerships
  • Need a regional perspective – the Augusta economy is stagnant
  • Concern about a focus on growth – need to balance sustainability with growth – the community’s focus should be on growing the local community
  • There is a lack of connection to coastal Maine – how do we get retirees interested in coming to Gardiner:
    • Boat on the river
    • The idea of the Merrymeeting Trail
    • Improved bus service
    • Creation of a scenic highways network centered on Gardiner
      • Rt 24
      • Road to Bath
      • Rt 105 to Camden
      • Connection to Damariscotta
  • Reposition Gardiner as a leader in new transportation in Maine – a community ahead of the curve
  • Consider the Kennebec River as a transportation route
  • Need places for people to stay in Gardiner
  • The community has a strong presence in the arts – Art Walk was a huge success
  • A strength of the City is its older housing stock – need to allow its creative reuse
  • Need to make better use of the upstairs space in downtown buildings – create incentives for installing sprinkler systems
  • Encourage more residential use Downtown – generate more people in the area
  • Work on expanding professional services – possibility of the reuse of large older buildings
  • Consider the idea of snowmobiles and ATV using trails for transportation – as opposed to recreation
  • Explore nightly rental apartments to meet the need for overnight accommodations
  • Establish a Downtown multi-use Saturday market on a closed Water Street:
    • Food and food products
    • Art
    • Crafts
  • Designate and promote Rt 24 as a scenic highway
  • Establish and market the Cobbossee Corridor as a “green district” in which all new activities have to meet “green development” standards
  • Develop a local map that identifies businesses and is illustrated with “special places” in the community