AUBURN — Little Androscoggin Park in New Auburn will now be known as Auburn Anniversary Park, as the city embarks on an overhaul of the entire area heading into its 150th anniversary celebration next year.
The park’s name change, approved Monday by the City Council, is just part of a much larger New Auburn Village Center Revitalization project already underway, which will include a riverway road, a new walking trail, greenspace and new commercial development space.
The council also heard plans Monday for a memorial brick project, where residents could purchase an engraved brick to be placed in the anniversary park.
Also in the works for the revamped park area: A permanent home to display the St. Louis bells. The four bells, cast at the world-famous Paccard Foundry in France in 1915, were used in the tower at St. Louis Parish in Auburn until its closure in 2013.
Little Androscoggin Park — or “Little Andy” Park, as it is often called — is off Pulsifer Street, next to the New Auburn Social Club and Rolly’s Diner.
It is considered a popular spot due to the hand-carry boat launch for paddlers, but city officials believe the revitalization project will create more economic development, and attract residents with more green space, public plazas and spots for festivals or markets.
As part of the project, the city has begun demolishing three properties that were purchased to make way for the improvements. A large amount of fill is being used to level off the riverway project area and take it out of the 100-year flood plain, and trees will be trimmed along the river to open up views.
Next, the riverway and trail will be built, along with additional parking. Once the park area is complete, street improvements will also be done on Main, Mill and Broad streets.
About $1.1 million worth of work is being done this year. Over the past three years, $758,883 has been spent on engineering, property acquisitions, demolition, permitting and utility fees. Another $800,000 was added to next year’s Capital Improvement Plan toward the project.
Mayor Jason Levesque said Monday the name change to Anniversary Park will “set the tone” for what the city is trying to accomplish with the improvements, at a historically significant time for the city.
The city also held a news conference Monday to announce the 150th anniversary festivities, which will begin New Year’s Eve 2018.
He said if the city moves ahead with the commemorative brick project, the community “will be able to leave their mark on the anniversary celebration” in 2019.
The city’s goal is to sell 2,000 bricks for $100 each. After costs, the funds could help pay for the St. Louis bells project, where those involved have pictured a tower structure that could house all four bells.
“I see the bell tower as the focal point of the entire project — something we can be very proud of,” said Larry Pelletier, a member of the committee overseeing the bells.
While most councilors were supportive of the park’s name change, Councilor Bob Hayes said he did not believe it had been vetted enough by the community.
“I’m still bothered we’re taking it up without adequate public response,” he said. “I don’t see the need for rushing, for muscling it through.”
He said there should have been time for the public to react to a workshop presentation that was made, including details on the commemorative brick project.
Councilor Holly Lasagna said all the projects combined give Auburn a chance “to have an integrated new area in our community, and I want to make sure it happens in that way.”
When Lasagna asked fellow Councilor Leroy Walker, who represents New Auburn, if he thought there had been enough feedback, Walker said, “This is the right time” for the name change, adding that residents will most likely still call it Little Andy Park, but that the new name fits the “changing vision” for the village center project.
The council voted 6-0, with Hayes abstaining.
Pelletier, who said he was married almost 50 years ago at St. Louis Parish, said the bells project and the new park will create a new amenity with a built-in history.
“This (opportunity) won’t come again,” Councilor Belinda Gerry said. “What better way to kick this whole thing off.”
A recent architectural drawing shows the proposed riverway project and expanded park in New Auburn, along the Little Androscoggin River. The City Council approved changing the name of the park from Little Androscoggin Park to Auburn Anniversary Park in honor of the improvements taking place during the city’s 150th anniversary next year. (City of Auburn photo)