LEWISTON – Some say the city’s southern downtown is a good place for a hidden village.

A group of central Maine planners and engineers is inviting anyone who is interested, from city officials to downtown residents and potential developers, to an all-day planning session on May 31 to discuss and come up with ways to develop the site.

“It’s a way to help determine the fate of a historic resource for the city,” said local architect Nat Salfas. “It’s a long-overdue opportunity to develop the south end of downtown Lewiston.”

The group calls itself the Gas Patch Gang. It’s made up of Salfas, former Lewiston Planning Board member Kristine Kimball and central Maine architects, engineers, designers and landscapers.

They imagine a village south of Locust Street between Lisbon Street and the Androscoggin River.

“We hope to come away with a viable concept – a village within the city, with all the things people love about cities,” said Kimball. “We could have services and jobs and water on three sides. There’s a lot to talk about at that site.”

The meeting is an informal design presentation, called a charrette. They’ll talk about the history of the area, city development in Maine and ecological planning, before climbing aboard buses and touring the area. Then, they’ll come back and offer their suggestions.

The area is home to several old mills.

“One of the larger things for me is to find a way to get housing into those mills,” Kimball said. “I think that would be a great way to get people living downtown. We might have outdoor activities that revolve around the water, or maybe a museum. There are a number of ideas to consider.”

Organizers hope to refine those ideas into a southern downtown master plan, Salfas said. Those ideas should be presented publicly in July, he said.

The charrette is being paid for with a $30,000 Maine Smart Growth Challenge grant, administered by the city of Lewiston. The city is also providing $10,000 in services.

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