AUBURN — With several redevelopment projects underway, officials have created a longer-term look at Auburn’s downtown and are considering a plan to add a downtown coordinator position.

During a City Council workshop this week, staff outlined the city’s five-year downtown revitalization plan, which focuses on walkability, redeveloping Great Falls Plaza, arts and entertainment and establishing a “downtown management district” that could include a coordinator.

Several sections of the plan are projects that are in the works, but according to Economic Development Director Jay Brenchick, having the full plan online will hopefully make it more digestible for residents and elected officials.

Projects outlined include long-planned pedestrian safety improvements to Court Street, Library Avenue and areas in New Auburn adjacent to the newly redeveloped Anniversary Park. There are also long-term projects like making Mechanics Row a two-way street and adding parking to offset the potential development of the city-owned surface level parking lot along Main Street.

A photo included in Auburn’s downtown revitalization plan shows the intersection at Mill, Main and Broad streets, where proposed improvements would make the area more pedestrian friendly. Submitted photo

Also included is a proposed overhaul of Festival Plaza and plans for a “pocket park” along the Androscoggin River.

To drive all the work, officials are weighing options for joining Main Street Maine, a Maine Development Foundation program, or reworking staff to better address issues specific to the downtown area.

Brenchick said Thursday that he has had initial discussions with the Maine Development Foundation about a staff visit to Auburn, but the effort is still in the “investigation stage.”

The Main Street Maine program, which uses a “four-point approach” to economic development created by the National Main Street Center, has proven effective in several other Maine communities. Ten municipalities are members, including Augusta, Bath, Biddeford, Brunswick, Saco and Westbrook

According to the downtown plan, “Other communities have seen more vibrant, healthy downtowns resulting in job creation, business growth, building rehabilitation, and cultural enhancement” from the program.

Becoming a member is a lengthy process and is based on an accreditation of work done over time, the plan states. Brenchick said after meeting with the MDF, Auburn will have to decide if it wants to be an affiliate member — a less rigorous involvement that still offers incentives — or a full member, which comes with funding and staff requirements.

Ultimately, the City Council would have to sign off if Auburn were to move forward, but Brenchick said he’s hoping to have more concrete steps in place over the next six months.

But, he said, work to market city-owned properties and urge development is ongoing.

In August, Brenchick said developers were looking at the city-owned 186 Main St., which overlooks the river, for some type of restaurant or brewery space, with market rate apartments above. The “pocket park” included in the plan would be next to the property.

He told the council that when talking to developers, many have urged the city to “take care of invasive plants and prune trees to allow better views of river.” He said a park could also include a dock for launching kayaks.

Other ideas included in the plan are establishing a revolving loan fund to help renovate building facades; a business plan contest and business incubator; and a shipping container “cluster” of businesses.

Under the arts and entertainment section, the plans calls for continuing the city’s growing roster of events and adding to its public art, including encouraging an art studio co-working space.

During the workshop, City Manager Phil Crowell said discussing the Main Street Maine idea will be part of strategic planning meetings with newly-elected city councilors after the Nov. 2 election.

In the meantime, Brenchick said the plan can serve as a hub for people to see the amount of activity in the works.

“We already have a lot going on and there’s more coming,” he said. “It helps people fully understand, and for elected officials, it gives them a better look at the bigger picture.”

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