LEWISTON — Fresh eyes can see possible changes for Lewiston’s downtown that people living here for generations tend to miss, according to Eric Stark, professor of architecture at the University of Maine-Augusta.

Stark’s students, presenting plans Friday morning that they’ve created over the past 11 weeks, saw a lot.

One group imagined a one-way Lisbon Street feeding traffic into a downtown plaza and a pedestrian walkway where Canal Street used to be.

Another imagined a downtown core moved several blocks toward the Androscoggin River. A revitalized Lincoln Street could feed a robust housing and business district, making room for meandering walkways and green-space along Lewiston’s downtown canals.

“These students were set free,” Stark said. “They really were set free to explore their own ideas of what the downtown area could be.”

Stark has been leading a group of 13 senior students in the college’s architecture program this quarter, helping them design their own visions for Lewiston’s riverfront, between Park Street and the Androscoggin River. The students presented three master plans for the area to a group of city officials and local architects.

The students did find some problems with the way Lewiston is currently set up. Buildings meant for industrial mills are too large to be useful today, and students recommended bringing the buildings down to a human-sized scale with friendlier storefronts.

They tried to take better advantage of the downtown canal — backing parks, plazas and open-air malls — and rebuilt Little Canada, bringing in rows of modest homes.

The professional architects and city officials brought in to review the plans were impressed, but they did have some criticisms. Stephan Myers, development coordinator for Platz Associates, said some of the plans didn’t take private property into account, calling for sweeping changes to areas without input from the owners. Others pointed out that some recommendations didn’t take real-life into account, including city policies, state laws or police protection.

It’s all part of the learning process, according to the students.

“We’re used to presenting our work to professors and other students, so it’s a little bit different presenting it to people that live in the area and have real history there,” student Giovanni Morabito said. 

Stark and Ian Houseal, the assistant to the Lewiston city administrator, will select one of the master plans. Next, Stark’s students will design building projects that fit in with that plan.

“It could be a building, it could be a fountain, or it could be something else,” Stark said.

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