LEWISTON — The city and its partners have received an award for the Choice Neighborhoods plan centered on downtown redevelopment.

The award from GrowSmart Maine highlights the comprehensive and community-driven planning that was eventually selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a $30 million grant.

The project is slated to spark some $100 million worth of public and private investment into the city, creating 185 new housing units in an area where the rate of childhood lead poisoning is higher than anywhere else in Maine.

According to GrowSmart Maine, which recently announced its fourth annual Smart Growth Awards, Lewiston’s plan “is arguably the largest, most comprehensive, and most ambitious neighborhood redevelopment plan in our state’s history and, more importantly, one with social and economic justice at its core.”

City staff and members of the Healthy Neighborhoods planning council, which solicited months of community feedback toward the Choice Neighborhoods “transformation plan,” stand on the City Hall steps last week with an award from GrowSmart Maine. From front to back are Healthy Neighborhoods board member Mohamed Ibrahim, Community Concepts CEO Shawn Yardley, Lewiston Economic Development Manager Misty Parker, Healthy Neighborhoods board member Amy Smith, Raise-Op Housing Cooperative’s Craig Saddlemire, Healthy Neighborhoods President Ashley Medina, Lewiston Economic and Community Development Director Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer and Lewiston City Administrator Heather Hunter. Submitted photo

The organization lauded the city and its partner Community Concepts for facilitating “a robust community process with multiple community partners,” and said the plan demonstrates the “enormous power of public-private partnerships to tackle community challenges and better the lives of residents.”

In a city news release, Deputy City Administrator Brian O’Malley said, “We are so proud of the collaborative effort that has resulted in this award. The city of Lewiston and its partners want the best for our community and have diligently strived to put a comprehensive plan together for the betterment of Lewiston and its residents. They have put vision and ideas into action, and the city is appreciative that GrowSmart Maine is recognizing the vast transformation that is ahead.”

Rebecca Casey, board chairwoman of GrowSmart, which advocates for and helps communities incorporate smart growth principles into community planning, said the organization and those working on the Lewiston plan “share common hopes and fears for the future.”

“Across Maine we are all keenly focused on challenges such as social and economic injustice, escalating housing cost, sprawl, and climate change,” she said. “These challenges threaten the quality of life that defines our Maine communities, and these awards recognize successes to inspire further action across the state.”

According to Misty Parker, Lewiston economic development manager, several pieces of the plan are moving along, including financing for the first two housing developments included in the plan.

Parker said Monday that city staff, along with Lewiston Housing and Avesta Housing, applied last summer for Low Income Housing Tax Credits through Maine Housing for the first two development sites. The city is expecting to hear any day if the applications were successful. Construction would begin on the first phase in early 2023, she said.

GrowSmart said that while Lewiston has seen significant investment in its downtown and mill districts in recent years, the Tree Streets neighborhood has also “greatly needed investment and extensive change.”

“In that regard, the transformation plan provides ways to systematically redevelop each and every pre-1950 distressed housing unit to achieve an entirely lead-free Tree Streets neighborhood,” it stated.

The neighborhood is a densely populated area bounded by Park, Ash, Jefferson, Birch and Maple streets and considered one of the poorest in Maine.

This year’s GrowSmart judges were Chuck Lawton, a retired economist; Paul Schumacher, director of the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission; Betsy Biemann, CEO of Coastal Enterprises, and Rob Wood, director of government relations and climate policy for The Nature Conservancy of Maine.

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