AUBURN — Great Falls Plaza is home to a hotel, a high-rise office building and a few smaller office buildings — and those buildings are all full of people.

“So why don’t we see those people out filling the streets of Auburn?” asked Al Manoian, the city’s economic development specialist.

Manoian led city and economic development officials on a walking tour of Main Street, Great Falls Plaza and Court Street on Wednesday with the goal of showing how decisions of the past built the downtown of today.

Joining him were about 20 people, mostly city councilors, staff and Planning Board members.

The difference between human-scale Main Street, with its concert space and restaurant fronts, and Great Falls Plaza’s parking lots is stark. And it’s the reason people from one don’t cross Court Street to explore the other.

“It’s a feeling,” Manoian said. “It feels different, one side from the other.”


Great Falls Plaza is full of parking lots with few pedestrian connections between the buildings. People drive their cars to an appointment, then get back in their cars and drive off.

Main Street, with its wide sidewalks, on-street parking and storefronts, invites people to explore.

And it doesn’t help that Great Falls Plaza is confusing to navigate, by car or on foot.

“This used to be the continuation of Main Street,” Manoian said. “Is it a street now? No, it’s a driveway.”

The difference stems from mid-1960s decisions to tune the downtown for cars and urban renewal that took away most of the old buildings.

What’s left is a fast-moving thoroughfare with few reasons to stop. And it’s important for the entire city.


“Downtown is the concern of everyone who lives in Auburn,” Manoian said. “This is everyone’s neighborhood, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be, and it should be a real concern for everybody.”

Foot traffic, Manoian said, is an important ingredient for an economically healthy and vital downtown.

“If we have that kind of development, this kind of fabric, your sidewalks will be full of people again,” Manoian said. “And your retailers’ cash registers will be ringing. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!”

Manoian said the city hopes to recruit downtown business owners and residents to form a downtown development association to promote the redevelopment. He said the city will debate using form-based planning codes for future design decisions. Those create planning and design goals to unify an area, rather than using property lines and setbacks to regulate development.

Manoian said he’d like to see the tours become a regular event, and he’s already scheduled a second one for Aug. 28. Manoian will lead a tour around New Auburn and talk about the history of the neighborhood, how it and the Barker Mill were founded in the 1870s and how it became the neighborhood it is today.

That tour will begin at 6 p.m. at the Main Street bridge over the Little Androscoggin River.

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