Initial downtown priorities set, approved by selectmen

By Stephanie Grinnell | Dec 01, 2012
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell This summer, a large group of people participated in a walking tour of downtown Camden.

Camden — The top three priorities for action chosen from Camden's Downtown Master Plan were revealed to selectmen Nov. 27.

Co-chairman of the Downtown Business Group Oscar Verest said marketing, advertising and branding; consistent town-wide sign design and installations; and improvements to Camden Opera House topped a much longer list of goals.

“Those are the things we thought most important,” Verest said.

Additionally, streetscapes and amenities; repair of the waterfall; creation of a tax increment financing district with credit enhancement policy for Knox Mill; improvements to the public landing and a river to harbor walk; enhancement of the availability of free high-speed wireless Internet access; and upgrades to the alley between Main Street and the public landing also ranked high on the list created by the Downtown Business Group.

Community Economic Development Advisory Committee members concurred for the most part with those goals, according to Downtown Business Group Co-chairman Peter Gross. He said CEDAC unanimously supported the goals at a meeting the day prior.

Selectman Don White raised concerns about the potential cost of some of the goals, as did Selectman John French. Gross said CEDAC has money in the budget for marketing, which “sets the stage” for improvements to signs and other goals. He noted downtown businesses also might be willing to pay for a portion of any new signs.

Selectman Leonard Lookner suggested starting with “low-hanging fruit” such as increasing Internet access. However, Gross said initial infrastructure costs could be $60,000 with an additional $10,000 per year in maintenance costs. Verest said that item made the list because a number of people expressed interest in making Camden's downtown “more edgy” to encourage more activities like the annual PopTech! conference.

Economic Development Director Brian Hodges noted that having high-speed wireless Internet throughout downtown using the same provider would allow for better branding through a landing page or home page.

“It's a great first attempt to promote Camden,” he said, adding it also would help businesses by reducing or eliminating Internet costs.

Verest noted the goals were not chosen due to ease of implementation or cost.

“It would be great if we had a big pot of money,” he said. “...The list is not set up as easy or cheap. We all want to get them done.”

Verest said two recently approved grants — one for a river to harbor walk design and another to study options for the public landing — are a good place to begin. Later in the meeting, Gross said additional grant money could be available for other projects.

“We understand it will take time,” he said.

Lookner expressed concern the suggestions are targeted at summer businesses rather than focusing on year-round business and residents.

“We all had our own priorities, but I think we all want to make this a year-round town,” Verest said, adding improvements to the opera house could help that endeavor.

“[Marketing, advertising and branding] isn't just for tourists. It's a way of branding, making a bigger splash,” Gross added.

Selectmen approved the list of project priorities unanimously.

Courier Publications Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at sgrinnell@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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