Candidates Asked to Weigh In on Downtown

Wondering what the candidates for mayor and city council think about the downtown’s role in Biddeford’s future? On October 15, an email/letter was sent from Heart of Biddeford to each of the Biddeford mayor and city council candidates, inquiring if they would be willing to reply to two questions related to the downtown. They were told that their first 250 words would be included without any edits. Please check out their responses below. Thank you to all who replied!

Here are the questions: What role does the downtown play in Biddeford’s future economic and community development? And, how would you describe the City’s role in helping that future come to be?

Mayor Alan M. Casavant
Biddeford’s downtown plays a critical and significant role in Biddeford’s economic and community development, because it remains the heart and soul of who we are as a community.  With its iconic architecture, its urban density, its mills, and its many shops and restaurants, the Downtown is a catalyst for additional positive growth because it acts as an attraction to tourists, shoppers, diners, and those who seek cultural enjoyment.  I remember the Downtown as a destination point when I was young, and with the new vibrancy and energy that exists today, I envision an even more acceleration of new enterprises.  All prosperous cities and towns have a central area in which people can congregate, shop and dine, and our Downtown is that area.  Acting as a magnet for entrepreneurial dollars, the Downtown will create a ripple effect affecting all areas of community life, as a vibrant downtown improves the quality of life for all.

The City must continue to partner with entities like the Heart of Biddeford and the Downtown Development Commission in order to further enhance the infrastructure and ambience, while providing necessary support and encouragement for artists, investors, shopkeepers, and chefs!  We must also do what is necessary to maximize investment dollars and space utilization in the mills and the downtown, because such policies will act to stabilize property tax rates, while providing jobs and living spaces for residents.  Working in public/private partnerships, in which both entities prosper, is a sure formula for ongoing prosperity and growth.

Daniel G. Parenteau
The downtown plays an important role in Biddeford’s overall mission for future economic and community development. The downtown strategy, however, should be simple and necessity-driven: clean up, repair and upgrade the downtown corridor and work toward creating a district that is inviting and ready for investment.

Relationships between leaders and community groups should not be fragmented but tightly interwoven. Bringing civic and municipal leaders, public safety departments, churches and existing merchants together is a critical step in this process. The downtown landscape and array of mixed use businesses and services should be shaped by the community as a whole and not by developers.

Driving more initiatives to crack down on crime and drug trafficking in the downtown district must also be a part of this strategy. The economic impacts from these efforts can neither be overstated nor underestimated. Safety and security in the business district is a key to drawing people to the downtown.

The city should also play an active role in seizing more opportunities to build community pride and unity in parallel to downtown development. Strengthening neighborhoods should be tied to making the downtown as a community hub that ties everything together. This is an important variable in that it starts to change the ways that citizens feel about the community and the value of the downtown corridor.

The key is to start thinking small. Small projects build momentum for addressing larger challenges. Maintaining and improving basic social needs is a necessary part of an economic development strategy.

Melissa L. Bednarowski
Biddeford’s downtown plays a vital role in the economic future and community development of the city. As much as I believe the downtown and its Main street is critical to supporting small business and creating an image of historic beauty, I also believe that the Route 111 corridor, the coastal tourism, the university, and areas in between have an equal role in supporting the future of Biddeford.

Similar to the city I was raised in, Manchester, NH, Biddeford’s stability was lost when the mills closed. It took Manchester several decades – with a concentration on all areas of the city – to redefine itself, including repurposing the main street and the mills, investing in the airport, and attracting large businesses to fill their industrial parks.

The City of Biddeford’s role in helping to meet its full potential is one of a holistic approach. Rather than viewing the city as parts and dividing its worth and resources, our economic success will be seen when each economic source supports the other while encompassing the same goal; the goal of Biddeford’s Economic Success and Community Development. The city will thrive when the sum of all its parts work together in synergy.

I would like the 20/20 Vision Committee, formed by Mayor Casavant in 2012, reenacted; to have it consist of a leader from each economic source assuring that every entity in the city is represented and working together, sharing ideas, and following a set plan to reach a united goal.

Marc P. Lessard
In the beginning of 2015, I recommended to the Mayor that we begin the process of creating a Downtown Business District to highlight the area and make possible new ordinances that would benefit future financial investment and business expansion.  The first steps have been completed and work is being done to identify the steps to be taken that will energize the area.  This is a groundbreaking philosophical change on investment and growing business that will diversify our tax base and bring continued positive change to the downtown.

Doris I. McAuliffe
My vision is one that people come down town being free from harassment, asked for money being able to walk freely without being pushed around. Having good stores that everyone can afford the down town be the place to be.

Laura A. Seaver

Biddeford’s downtown plays a critical role in shaping the city’s future, whether it’s economic development or quality of life.

Our downtown area serves as the gateway into our community, from the neighboring communities of Arundel and Saco.

I am excited by the revitalization happening in downtown Biddeford and the media attention our community has received because of it. Whether it’s the renovation of the Lincoln Mill Building or the expanded River Walk, our downtown is a diamond in the rough that requires a commitment by city leaders to help make it shine.

Over the last five years, our downtown has benefited from the energy and enthusiasm by dedicated individuals and organizations that are committed to our city’s success. Clearly, that hard work is paying off big dividends for the entire community.

I am a strong advocate of long-term planning, and I am pleased that HOB has undertaken a planning to meet its goals. I am further encouraged that this planning process has diligently sought input from a wide diversity of residents and business owners.

Despite all the recent success, our downtown is still facing many challenges, from street crime to parking and absentee landlords. I think the city council has an important role to play in addressing those issues and working cooperatively with downtown residents, business owners and organizations like the Heart of Biddeford.

I thank the Heart of Biddeford for posing this question to all of the candidates, and I hope you will consider supporting me on November 3.

Joanne T. Twomey
No answer provided.

Councilor, Ward 1
Kathleen E. Russell
Our downtown area has many architecturally significant buildings. Recently, entrepreneurs have taken notice; opening restaurants and shops for our community to patronize and enjoy. Our city has several areas for business development, but the downtown is unique in that it also includes residential properties and our city hall. Future development in our downtown has the potential to increase our tax revenues without adding substantial new burdens on city services.  The city’s role in assisting in future development is to provide a healthy environment for those who live or work here – one that will also attract people, business and investments. This includes:

– Being financially responsible so taxes are stable, predicable and competitive with neighboring communities.
– Networking and promoting our community as an attractive place to live and work.
– Providing excellent schools so our students graduate with employable skills or are prepared for college.
– Ensuring we are a safe community and that crime is low.

Downtown has the most potential for growth in our city.  One of the most helpful things the city can do is network and promote our city to business leaders around the Greater Portland area and creative technology businesses. Biddeford should be an easy sell given UNE and the talent pool it offers, the hospital, ocean, river, parks, and train station all nearby.  Revitalization of the downtown can be the linchpin of the resurgence of our great city.

Michael J. Swanton
The Council voted 8 to 1 to buy the Maine Energy plant. I am hoping that was the tipping point that will finally get the downtown back up to its former glory. With MERC gone we have opened the door to what I hope is a huge growth spurt. I hope to have a lot of business and a lot of tenants all without adding roads and sewer lines. Urban sprawl, I am told is very costly. A city without a downtown is Arundel.

And, how would you describe the City’s role in helping that future come to be?

I get the impression that the Economic Development Director and the former city manager would like to chose the next owner of the MERC property, which is now being called 2or3 Lincoln Street. If that is true, I don’t agree with it. I don’t want to pick someone. Look how well it turned out the last time the council made a decision. Many years ago the French government asked the business men what can we do to help and the reply was “Laissez-faire”. I would leave the investment decisions to investors.

Councilor, Ward 2
John A. McCurry, Jr.
No answer provided.

Councilor, Ward 3
Stephen P. St. Cyr
Hi. I’m the new councilor from Ward 3. I worked on the HOB Main Street Encore committee that selected Desert Moon & Biscuit & Co. to open downtown. I’m a supporter of HOB and the downtown/mills.

Downtown and the mills play a vital role in future economic and community development. It is critical that the recent growth in the mills continue. It’s important that the space be occupied, and that it be a combination of residents and businesses. We need those residents to be willing and able to frequent the restaurants and stores downtown. We need the increasing number of residents to create greater demand for goods and services. The businesses should meet a need that is not presently available. The businesses need to create new employment opportunities for Biddeford people.

The City is a key player in both attracting new businesses and maintaining and growing existing businesses. The City has to take care of itself and its infrastructure. It has to work with existing and new businesses to attract capital so that they can make investments in their properties.

We need to be able to increase the value of the property and increase the related property tax revenue. We need to capture these new property tax revenues to pay for the infrastructure and to earmark some of those dollars to level and/or minimize the mill rate for the benefit of all taxpayers.

The ongoing development of the mills and the downtown benefits the whole City.

Richard E. Rhames

The history of great civilizations is the history of cities. But in the USA, we’ve invested too much time and treasure trying to destroy ours. In my lifetime various massive subsidies to the “car culture,” liquid fuels virtually too cheap to meter, short-sighted tax policies, and a consistent push to physically fragment the population have led to an emptying out of American cities. We no longer live where we work, but often commute considerable distances. Through the construction of various boom/bust “rings of development” retail/commercial activities now largely occur on the fringe rather than in the urban core. This, they said, was progress: Facilitated by tax policy, short-sighted zoning regimes, and the ravenous pursuit of quick bucks by smooth-talking sociopaths.

Several decades ago the political class in Biddeford thought so little of our downtown that they entered a public/private partnership that surrendered the city center to a regional garbage incinerator. City officials helped to “clean-up the (property’s) title”, made Biddeford a co-applicant on the dioxin-emitter’s air license, and promoted its rescue from bankruptcy 3 years into its assaultive existence. Had the owners not finally decided to pull-up-stakes, it’s not at all clear that local officials wouldn’t have eagerly continued the masochistic relationship.

But hey… they’re gone.

Biddeford has a river, rail, a built-to-last core and a green-belt rural area for food/fiber production. Yogi Berra famously advised, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Anything’s possible.

I suppose.

Councilor, Ward 4
Terry R. Belanger
No answer provided.

Robert E. Quattrone, Jr.
Biddeford is very lucky to have such a historic downtown. Not only is the downtown historic, but it a symbol of our strong work ethic. The downtown plays a huge role in shaping our future development and our economic prosperity. There is an enormous amount of square footage waiting to be tapped into. This open space can be for new places of business or for housing. These businesses/housing can spur our economy by having people spending money locally.

And, how would you describe the City’s role in helping that future come to be?

The city’s role should be a collaborative role. By having city officials, city staff, and developers working together, the city as a whole will benefit. Collaboration spawns fresh and innovative ideas that will make the development process advance in ways that we haven’t begun to realize.

Councilor, Ward 5
Perry V. Aberle
No answer provided.

Nathan Bean
A vibrant, modern city must have a thriving downtown.  We are extremely fortunate that Biddeford has positioned itself to realize this vision.  Today, our city is poised to take significant steps forward in the next few years.  If we can capitalize on the opportunity before us, our downtown can become the economic and cultural anchor for our city as it becomes one of the greatest places to live, work and visit in the entire state.

Economic development is one of the primary responsibilities of the City Council.  I believe the downtown is a key component to Biddeford’s future.  Continued development in the mill district is extremely important to the future of the city. The City Council must constantly promote and support the successes that are happening in Biddeford, as well as use all means available to spur additional growth.

Additionally, facilitating the redevelopment of the former MERC property will be a significant part of our work over the next few years.  Not only does the Council have a responsibility to ensure that the taxpayers of Biddeford get a fair return on their investment, but the development at that site must be sustainable and help move Biddeford forward.  Ultimately, the City Council has the responsibility to ensure that the current momentum for economic growth in the downtown is maintained and that it spreads throughout the city, improving the economic climate and quality of life for all citizens of Biddeford.

Carol A. Boisjoly

The Downtown area has  a lot of options to help the City of Biddeford to grow economically. There is space for businesses to come to our city and expand their businesses. Biddeford is a great location for people to start a business in. We are near major transportation routes and cities for a business to start in.  And hopefully Biddeford will get back the foot traffic that once was abundant. And Biddeford would be able to draw people from others into our Downtown area. This would also help the community grow and expand to help  meet the needs of the people of Biddeford. Also with community growing Biddeford could look forward into expanding its goals for our community. And get more people involved with helping Biddeford grow/ expand. As  the people of Biddeford have to remember that there is more then Main St., Elm St, Alfred St. in the downtown area. We have some good side streets that are just waiting for someone to tap into it.And expand them. And bring Biddeford alive.

The City role would be to help and encourage businesses to come to Biddeford. To monitor , set up guide lines to help the businesses to thrive in Biddeford. The city could set up so many programs that would the people in the community. And help the community grow. These programs would help hopefully curb the drug issues and welfare/ housing issues in Biddeford.

It has to be carefully thought out and planned.As the city has to keep in mind who or what would the city to be like in 5, 10,20 years from now.

Bobby J. “Bob” Mills
I believe the Downtown plays a vital role in our city as a whole. As we move forward with rebranding and revitalizing our Downtown it gains attention by outside business and developers. We have seen this recently by Tim Harrington and Nathan Zanton’s developments.

Getting rid of MERC was the best thing for our city. I’m proud to say, I voted to purchase and remove it. I trust our economic development team to bring more and more stong businesses and development forward.
With a strong downtown and strong belief in our community nothing can stop us.

Karl R. Reed, Jr.

The downtown is one of Biddeford’s best assets. I personally see the downtown as being Biddeford’s strongest assets. It is to our city as a sweater is to a cold fall day, or a grandparent’s embrace after graduating high school.

It’s nice to see the downtown developing more now than it was two years ago, but we need to keep this momentum. One of Newton’s law of physics that which is in motion, stays in motion. That which is at rest, stays at rest.

If we do not continue with the momentum we have going, we will not prosper as a city. I do not to see less bars in the downtown, though. I do not think this city should be known for its alcohol. This city has so much more to offer.

We need to have better economic polices in place, as well as lure a wider amount of developers to have competition in siring a better Biddeford. More developers will undoubtedly compete to have renters utilize their buildings for businesses and in turn, we can hopefully get more people willing to try their hand at running their own business.

I would also like to see a grant or scholarship opportunity given to the kids of Biddeford that could cover set up cost that allow them to try their hand at being an entrepreneur. This is especially important to me, given that Maine often sees the youth leave to states that give better opportunities.

Milton Truman
My family and I are no strangers to the downtown business area: Thromoulos Brothers & T. Sister’s Markets, Puritan Confectionary,(later The Puritan Tea Room “Mouzas Family) The Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes, Federal Realty , Maine Auto Driving School (later Truman’s Driving School), Mr.T’s Pizza , Truman & Company, and even The Wonderbar. From 1911-1991, my family made their living in downtown Biddeford…so much for ancient history).

I would say that cities with strong downtowns have greater cultural pull than those without. You can get by economically with the big boxes on the outskirts, but they do not provide any sense of community. Biddeford may not be a big city like Boston or Portland, but those places rely on very strong
downtowns that draw people inward.

We don’t have the total real estate of Portland (Commercial to Congress, State to Franklin), but we have a good nucleus of Main Street and the Mill complexes. And we can creep up Alfred and Jefferson provided there’s a good, strong core. Right now, we’ve got the bottom of Main Street (near Alfred) showing good progress, and we can get another shot in the arm with the Lincoln Mill project. There are some good pieces in place further up the street with Elements, Reilly’s and the library (though not an economic engine, extremely important to the community). But we have a lot of dead spots as well. For whatever reason (rental costs?) there are a lot of storefronts languishing, particularly from City Hall past Jefferson [250 word count]

Councilor, Ward 6
Debra A. Lauzon
No answer provided.

Richard “Rick” Laverriere
No answer provided.

Councilor, Ward 7
Bernard A. “Ben” Neveux
Biddeford’s Downtown plays a fundamental role in our community’s identity. After decades of neglect our rediscovered downtown is becoming home to a growing number of unique shops, dining and entertainment venues while retaining its heritage and mainstay businesses.  Moreover, a reinvigorated downtown can offer visitors and potential investors a glimpse in to Biddeford’s culture and economic potential.
Downtowns, like ours, naturally are entrepreneur friendly.  The City’s critical role is to promote Downtown as a destination and provide infrastructure as well as core services.  The City should further promote our cultural center by seeking “downtown renewal” grants to rejuvenate the facades of our Main Street properties to continue to attract both visitors and investors alike.

Michael J. Ready
I believe that the Downtown provides us with the greatest single opportunity to positively impact economic and community development in the city.
With the purchase of the Maine Energy site, and the City now controlling that prime property, and the recently announced projects (Lincoln Mill Hotel project, The Lofts at Saco Falls and the Senior Housing announced for Building 11(?) in the Pepperell campus), we are seeing the beginnings of the renaissance that we have been speaking about and hoping we could achieve for a long time. It is the area that can most easily absorb this kind of development and is most ready for development.

The City can best assist this by ensuring the continued investment in City infra-structure, by continued marketing of the City and by making smart long range choices in what takes place at the Maine Energy site at 3 Lincoln Street.

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