When leaders announced plans earlier this year for a big-box shopping center beside the Maine Turnpike in Lewiston, Mayor Lionel Guay added a warning.

People had better shop at the new stores, or future development would freeze up, he said.

Lewiston’s image as a destination needs constant polishing, he said.

His brother, Auburn Mayor Normand Guay, is optimistic about the cities’ future.

“There are still ghosts to fight, though,” said the Auburn mayor.

Even as people inside and outside the cities talk about Lewiston-Auburn’s improved image, some will always see it in its worst light, Normand Guay said.

For example, Darren Fishell, a freshman at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, adopted a negative view of the cities after less than a year in Maine.

A southern California native, he dated a woman at Bates College who told him to be careful of the city’s crime-ridden downtown.

Arriving in Lewiston on a bus at night, he had a scare of his own.

Wearing a backpack as he walked to the Bates campus, the 18-year-old student thought about all he had heard as he passed a downtown bar.

“Inside, someone yelled, There he is! Get him!” Fishell said.

Nobody followed.

“I guess they were joking, but I was by myself,” he said. “I was freaked out.”

Fishell was among 21 people randomly interviewed in South Portland and Brunswick about Lewiston-Auburn’s image.

Of those, five had a negative opinion of the city. Two had never been here. The other 14 thought the cities had improved.

Several mentioned new development, the cleaner downtowns and the perception that the Twin Cities are a growing, vibrant community.

Robert Gould, 55, of Gorham routinely drives through the area, sometimes catching lunch at a local restaurant. He particularly likes the way the city has embraced its Franco-American heritage.

Norman Moreau of Cumberland, a retired jewelry store owner, has been reading the newspaper and watching the TV ads, he said. He has also visited over the years, ever since the cities’ mills were employing thousands.

“It has changed quite a bit,” Moreau said. “It’s coming back.”

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