New Auburn redevelopment will begin this summer

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AUBURN — Construction is slated to begin this year on a $3.2 million redevelopment of the New Auburn neighborhood, starting with a pedestrian-centered “riverway” road, an amphitheater and trail along the Androscoggin River. 

Doug Greene, Auburn’s urban development coordinator and the project’s leader, told the City Council on Monday that construction will begin this summer — with about $1.1 million worth of work done this year. 

“We’re ready to stop the planning and get this thing built,” he said.

The framework for the project, known as the New Auburn Village Center Plan, was first included in Auburn’s 2010 comprehensive plan, and later fine-tuned by a committee. The master plan was adopted in 2014, and the city hired engineers in 2016 to draft a final design and construction layout. 

Officials believe the changes will invite more economic development, and attract residents with more green space, trees, public plazas and spots for outdoor performances, festivals and markets. 

The first phase of work will focus on creating three new lots for development opportunities. Part of the construction will bring in a considerable amount of fill, taking much of the land out of the 100-year flood plain, Greene said.

The neighborhood saw devastating floods in both 1938 and 1989. 

The pedestrian road connecting to Mill and Broad streets was designed to provide access to the new development sites, as well as a new greenway trail and dock.  

Over the past three years, $758,883 has been spent on engineering, property acquisitions, demolition, permitting and utility fees.

As of now, the city has purchased and demolished 23 Broad St., and has purchased another building on 10 Second St., which has been marked for demolition in April. 

During the meeting, Greene said it was unfortunate the buildings had to go, but it was all part of the “community-driven” redevelopment plan. 

The project is also planned to become the permanent home for the historic St. Louis bells, which were used in the tower at St. Louis Parish in Auburn until its closure in 2013.

This spring, Greene said, the city will hold pre-construction meetings, as well as public meetings with local business and property owners to go over the final plan and construction impact. 

A memo to the council reads: “A public meeting will be scheduled in the next month where we can get public input on the final New Auburn plan, the Main, Mill and Broad (streets) traffic plan and discuss how to ‘restart’ the St. Louis Bell Tower design project.”

According to Greene, during the first construction phase “the initial trail system will be built, a significant portion of the riverway road will be completed, the amphitheater and retaining walls will be in place and the overall grading of 80 percent of the project will be completed, and three new development sites will be ready to market.

He described it Monday as a “vibrant, attractive place that attracts businesses.”

“I think we created an exciting plan to transform New Auburn,” he said, adding it will be “the kind of place people want to walk to.”

Additional funding has been requested in this year’s Capital Improvement Plan, with an initial request of $1.8 million, but that figure could be scaled back. 

Greene said the total project cost will be some $3.2 million. A traffic study is also underway for Main, Mill and Broad streets, which may add measures to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. Another $1 million in Department of Transportation funding will be used for road improvements. 

On Monday, Mayor Jason Levesque said city staff should host a site walk for the City Council and members of the public to view the construction area. 

Councilor Leroy Walker, who represents the New Auburn district, said Monday that he’s “happy to see us going forward” with the redevelopment.

“I’m hoping we really see something happening (there),” he said. 

Greene said he estimates the assessed value of the village center area to rise from $3.1 million to $11 million or more. The area is roughly 4.6 acres. 

The final construction plan will go to bid this spring, with an anticipated start date of June or July. 

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The final design for the New Auburn Village Center project shows an ambitious redevelopment plan for the neighborhood, with construction slated to start this summer. (City of Auburn)

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