When readers finished the sentence, “What this city needs is . . .” some definite themes emerged.

They generally wanted more business and retail, more arts and boosted self-esteem.

We found six experts to ask how doable that all might be.

Grow the arts scene here?

Very possible, according to Melanie Therrien and Tyson Pease, members of the new Union of Maine Visual Artists-LA chapter.

There’s an unofficial arts district forming in downtown Lewiston, Therrien said. Among the upcoming projects: Her studio, Wicked Illustrations, The Studio, L/A Arts and the Hive will collaborate in February on an exhibit called “For the Love of Art,” with each studio highlighting themes of lust, passion companionship or sweetness.

“A lot of stuff that people are saying they want is already in the works,” Therrien said.

The fifth year of Art Walk Lewiston Auburn ended this fall with more Auburn activity, Pease said. He’s feeling good about next year’s walks.  

Pease imagines readers mean they’d like to walk through the downtowns and see artists at work and non-artists engaging with them, maybe even adding to their creative process.

“Our focus is definitely finding Lewiston-Auburn’s way as an arts center — not necessarily just emulate what’s been done before, but find what’s just really a genuine fit for this community,” he said. “There’s so many different unique populations (here), art can kind of be a bridge. The fact that Lewiston has such a history and heritage of crafts, it’s a very natural fit. With all the mills, there’s been so much making. This is a place of makers. So (we’re) trying to discover the new generation of that.”

Grow business and retail?

We asked Peter DelGreco, president and CEO of Maine & Company, a Portland-based nonprofit that specializes in statewide business attraction, to set the commercial/industrial scene a little.

2015 in Maine, he said, was pretty amazing.

“Sun Life came to Scarborough. We saw OnProcess Technology set up a new operation in Belfast and now Collaborative Consulting just announced in Waterville,” he said. “In the Lewiston-Auburn area, we saw Modula (invest $6 million) and we see the potential exciting new investment from the Chinese investors to create the medical tourism idea. Frankly, we’re lucky to get one or two of those in a year, let alone all of those.”

Lewiston-Auburn is still well poised for growth, DelGreco said.

In our collective favor: A national trend that has companies realizing they’ve gotten as efficient as they can get post-recession, and to grow the bottom line they’re going to have to expand in employees and products, even modestly.

Not in our collective favor: The upcoming presidential election.

“Whoever wins is going to have a set of policies that businesses are going to have to react to as it relates to their investment decisions,” DelGreco said. “What we have found traditionally, the closer you get to an election, the more cautious businesses get and the more you’re likely to get decision-makers saying, ‘Let’s see what happens after that first Tuesday in November.'”

On the retail front, broker Craig Young at CBRE/The Boulos Co. has seen growth remain cool.

“While I’m sure we’ll have a few new retailers come to the area in 2016, I do not think it’s going to be any of the big national chains (like Trader Joe’s or Golden Corral),” he said. “More interesting in retailing this time of year is which retailers will announce store closures and all-out going-out-of-business post-Christmas. Look for those the first through third weeks in January. As we have already heard, Gap is closing a very large number of stores post-Christmas, including all stores in Maine except the outlet in Freeport. And, we have already seen Tim Horton’s, Pizza Hut and Alliance Oil all close stores in Maine already this fall.”

Could new development at Lewiston’s Exit 80 be the exception? We’ll have to wait and see.

Lastly, boost the Twin Cities’ self-esteem and say adios to the awful nickname “The Dirty Lew”?

For that, we turned first to an expert on the downtown, on all things underbelly and potentially untoward: Cop reporter Mark LaFlamme.

“Lewiston has always had that reputation as a scrappy, bizarre, rough-and-tumble kind of place, and the downtown usually did its best to earn that reputation,” LaFlamme said. “Problem is, over the past five years or so, Lewiston has become something considerably less than gritty. Many of the sharp edges have been smoothed, to the point where that famed grittiness is now something more like mild abrasiveness. The character of the city seems to be evolving. It doesn’t have the same charming shabbiness it possessed in the ’80s, ’90s and the early part of the new century.

“Maybe it could be modified, instead, to more accurately reflect this slightly cleaner, less-bizarre version of the city. How’s ‘The Scruffy Lew’ sound? ‘The Normal Wear and Tear Lew?’ ‘The We Used To Be a Lot Dirtier Lew?’ See, this is why I don’t work for the mayor.”

John Holden, who as head of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council is paid to sell the Twin Cities, agreed L-A’s reputation is changing and will continue to. How?

“One. Get over it. The greatest way to change another person’s perception of yourself is to change your own perception of yourself. Lewiston-Auburn is Maine’s second largest metro area and has a wide diversity of places to play, work, live, eat and to see or experience arts and entertainment. Could we have more? Sure. But, one thing I have learned in my one year here at the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council is that we, Lewiston-Auburn, L-A Maine, have a lot to offer for business, entertainment and recreation. L-A is not Portland. No offense to Portland, but L-A should not want to be Portland. We are Lewiston-Auburn. We are the state’s most ethnically diverse and youngest city. We are L-A Maine.”

The evolving change in the cities’ reputation will be boosted by some new branding initiatives, Holden said, including the unveiling of the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce’s new brand later this month and a “community brand” the LAEGC has been working on that could be used by the cities, businesses, organizations and others.

“The committee working on this brand has been taking a hard look at recent surveys and considering what a true, authentic and sustainable brand for Lewiston Auburn may be,” Holden said.

He added, “Yes, we do, as a community, have work to do to change the perception. But I believe it is not as bad as ‘we’ believe it to be and it is us, ourselves, that perhaps need the most convincing.”

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The view from Bates

A host of Bates College students give thoughtful answers on what they like most about L-A. On the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council’s Facebook page.

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