As we prepare to enter 2009 in Lewiston-Auburn, it is only fitting to do as a community what individuals do; make a New Year’s resolution. The challenge is getting consensus of those leading the community on what we should resolve.

So, to make the process simpler, I have decided what we should do: we should resolve to market Lewiston-Auburn and its downtown as a great place to live, work, play and invest.

There might be shock over making such a statement. Many may wonder what the “LA: It’s Happening Here” campaign has been all about, if not that same marketing goal.

If residents from the past times could return, they would tell stories about the vibrancy of downtown L-A. The shops, music halls, churches, the significant construction projects that went into building this place. And with all of those attractions, people from Rumford, Oxford, Bethel, Norway and most of Central and Western Maine would venture here on weekends and evenings to enjoy the hustle and bustle of Maine city life.

Beautiful homes were built in town, overlooking the river, Canal Street was lined with brick row houses, and public transit was plentiful and made for easy movement from home to work or shops. It was a great setting, in that era, for small business owners to come and invest.

The “LA: It’s Happening Here” campaign, administered by the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, has had success in letting residents of this area, and opinion leaders from away, know there are good jobs being created here again, that health care is a strong industry for this region and the arts have gained a stronger foothold in the community.

But even with all that, the message is getting stale and becoming cliché.

Ask the politician or the bureaucrat about L-A, and they will regurgitate some factoid they heard on a commercial and finish off with “it is truly happening there.” It gives some people a warm feeling to know that to some, the perception of this community has changed.

Unfortunately, the converted to this message are not those we need to reach. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes; there’s reluctance to point out what is obvious, but likely unpopular.

Ask young professionals living in Portland what they think about Lewiston-Auburn or its downtown. Any predictions of how they will answer?

For them, the number of places to go out in downtown Lewiston-Auburn on a weekend night is likely less than those on Exchange Street in Portland alone.

While city staff commit time to find chain restaurants to move to our mall area or search for big-box stores, we miss opportunities to showcase the draws we do have. And by showcasing it, encourage others to come take part.

There is Fuel, Fish Bones, Gritty’s, Davinci’s and Willy Beans. There are galleries tucked into various storefronts in downtown and the Franco-American Heritage Center, Public Theater and Community Little Theater.

And there are vacant storefronts, buildings in disrepair and windows boarded with plywood. That is the image that lingers for those from away who could help to change this place.

We need a new message that will lure small businesses that could take a storefront near Fuel and make it great. A message to convince young professionals looking to build equity to buy a property in downtown L-A since their dollar would get them more here than in Portland.

2009 must be the year the perception of L-A changes; we just need to kick the establishment here to do it.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal. E-mail: [email protected]


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