Fires in Lewiston: Complete coverage of how the city battled a string of fires and worked to recover.

LEWISTON — Repairing the city’s downtown is going to take more than just ordinances and city tax money, officials said Wednesday.

A panel of Lewiston city and school officials at a discussion Wednesday night in the Lewiston Public Library summed up the city’s status, especially in the wake of a series of spring fires.

With narrowing city budgets and a relatively small staff, private individuals and businesses are going to have to help out.

“We can’t fix the downtown,” said Gil Arsenault, Lewiston’s director of planning and code enforcement. “I think people know that, but it’s not something they hear us say. We can’t do it alone. Every stakeholder has to step to the plate; that’s the city, residents, landlords, lenders.”

It was a theme echoed by City Administrator Ed Barrett, as well as police, fire and school officials. A fixed downtown is going to come from everybody working together.

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“Students receive the best education possible when parents, communities and schools work together to help them all reach their full potential,” school Superintendent Bill Webster said.

Wednesday’s meeting was an extension of the May 22 Lewiston Unites panel that brought residents to the Longley school to talk about what the community needed in the wake of the fires. Topics that night ranged from housing to jobs to quelling illegal activity downtown.

Moderator Shanna Rogers said city officials were asked to refrain from talking at that meeting. Wednesday was their chance to reply.

Panelists included Barrett, Arsenault, Webster, police Chief Michael Bussiere, fire Chief Paul LeClair and Economic Development Director Lincoln Jeffers.

Barrett outlined challenges the city faces. City spending has gone down along with the number of city employees even as property taxes have gone up — a byproduct of cuts in state aid. Meanwhile, the city is a significant service center for the surrounding region, with 24,000 people coming to Lewiston daily to work.

“We have two hospitals, five colleges, a lot of government services, financial services,” Barrett said. “It’s a place where there are many more people here during the day then at two in the morning.”

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The city has responded to downtown issues, working to demolish unsafe buildings and helping residents collect litter and enforce city rules. But residents need to be responsible too, calling the city when they see problems and taking pride in the area.

“I think to a significant degree, the people who live downtown have a tremendous opportunity to make a positive change,” Arsenault said. “I’m not trying to put the problem on the folks that live downtown, but it is where you live. Trash on the streets, trash around buildings, it’s not the landlord doing that.”

Rogers noted that many volunteers and downtown groups had come together under the Lewiston Unites banner. Since the fires, volunteers have spent more than 600 hours on community cleanups and hundreds more interviewing residents for a community survey.

Groups are sponsoring another cleanup from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, starting at the Wisdom’s Women Center on 97 Blake St.

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