Jordan Flynn and her son Briar, 4, spend time Monday in Festival Plaza while waiting for his haircut appointment. The city is in talks to overhaul the plaza using money in the federal coronavirus relief bill. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — A plan to renovate the aging Festival Plaza on Main Street in Auburn is moving ahead and could get a boost from the federal coronavirus relief bill.

Earlier this year, officials reviewed concept designs for overhauling the 24-year-old urban park next to the Androscoggin River. After receiving feedback, they said they are closer to settling on a plan.

The design includes an artificial turf lawn and expanded event space, hillside seating facing the river, a band shell performance stage and significant landscaping and seating improvements.

Consultants from Portland engineering firm Woodard & Curran Inc. presented updated cost estimates last week that ranged from $1.65 million to $2.38 million.

Officials included $100,000 in this year’s capital improvement plan toward initial plaza repairs, but according to Mayor Jason Levesque, a vast majority of the funds will come out of the $13.5 million in COVID-19 relief funding Auburn received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

So far, however, no funding has been officially allocated and no timeline has been established for the work.

Levesque said a committee devoted to allocating the American Rescue Plan Act funding is set to begin work in October to prioritize projects for the City Council. So far, Auburn has only committed a $250,000 matching grant partnership with Efficiency Maine from the federal funds.

Earlier this year, Levesque and city staff members presented preliminary project ideas, including market rate housing on a city lot on Academy Street, a new bike park at Moulton Park, between Main and High streets, a possible expansion of Auburn’s PAL Center on Chestnut Street and Phase 1 of the Festival Plaza redevelopment.

Michael Jamosik, left, and Mark Ozimek eat lunch Monday at Festival Plaza in Auburn. The two work at Scott & Jon’s, a healthy frozen food company across the street. “We have to get outside to decompress a little, and see the water and see the sky,” Ozimek says. The city is in talks to overhaul the plaza, using relief funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

City Manager Phil Crowell said the plaza project is an allowable expenditure under two sections of the American Rescue Plan Act related to economic support and tourism aid.

“Identified during COVID was the need for outdoor activities which can also boost tourism,” Crowell said. “The council has identified the need to enhance space for outdoor events.”

An expanded event lawn, which would be large enough to host up to 300 people, is included in the updated design from Woodard & Curran.

According to city staff members, several elements from the original plaza project have failed or need fixing, which led the city to look into revitalizing the park rather than investing in costly repairs.

Last week, members of the City Council discussed several design elements, including whether to add public bathrooms and whether artificial turf was right for the plaza.

Daniel Windsor, a Woodard & Curran consultant, said the initial design was meant to “celebrate the river by bringing people to the edge, creating an amphitheater-like setting.” An American Disabilities Act-accessible ramp would also traverse the slope.

An updated concept design shows proposed elements included in Auburn’s redevelopment of Festival Plaza.

The plan also features areas for art displays and performances, and bicycle racks, a small kiosk and a permanent spot for the city’s holiday tree.

Woodard & Curran consultant Megan McDevitt said the work could be completed in two phases — one for the flat plaza section and the other for the hillside improvements — but it would increase the cost by about $200,000.

The Woodard & Curran consultants also presented an alternative design based on feedback skeptical of the artificial turf. Windsor said turf technology “has come a long way,” and there are options more appropriate for a public space.

If officials went with the alternative plan, it would remove the turf interior and, instead, utilize movable planters and seating, which would also be an added cost.

An option to add public bathrooms would also add $185,000 to the plan, according to officials. During last week’s workshop, Public Works Director Dan Goyette said the addition of bathrooms would be the biggest “scare” for his department. He recommended against adding them.

Goyette said the price was high for two bathrooms that would be utilized only during events. Officials also discussed options for portable restrooms at the plaza.

A memorandum from Woodard & Curran said the cost estimates were developed based on “current industry prices or recent trends and constitute a snapshot in time, in September 2021 dollars; those costs were then escalated to reflect an assumed 2022 construction.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.