Parking questions dominate meeting
The meeting on July 12 at the Lincoln County Planning Commission, in conjunction with the Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce, was supposed to bring downtown merchants together to create activities that would bring in people during the Maine Department of Transportation construction project.
According to Meg Lane of MDOT’s community outreach department, in towns that have had disruptions due to construction, businesses have found fun, engaging ways to attract people. In Bath, which had work on its bridge and viaduct, merchants held special sales, handed out small badges that proclaimed the visitors had “survived the viaduct” project, and gave away samples from area restaurants and gift certificates to downtown businesses, to encourage people to go there.
Chamber Chairman Jean Beattie hoped the meeting in Wiscasset would encourage a similar effort.
But a vocal group of project opponents demanded answers Lane was unable to provide about parking.
“That needs to be something your PAC (Public Advisory Committee) or your select board discuss,” she said. “I can’t change the parameters of the project. I’m here to show you how other towns have managed to get through the construction phase despite the disruption,” Lane said.
Town Manager Marian Anderson said the town was talking with MDOT about the parking issues, and that some of the long-term solutions would be the town's, such as designating parts of more remote parking lots for employee parking, having seasonal parking arrangements and having more handicapped access closer to the shops. And, she said, the elephant in the room, the Haggett building site, is one issue the town is discussing with MDOT.
“It needs to be a two-track issue,” Lane said. “MDOT can help with signage during the construction phase, to help people get around and know your businesses are open, help with designs of materials, help with information, but the town needs to be looking forward to ... when MDOT isn’t around anymore.”
A video showed how businesses and residents in towns like Kennebunkport, Hallowell and Ogunquit worked together to make the best of the situation, and had a vision of what they wanted their town to look like after the construction was complete. The business owners had a great deal of advice for towns facing a project, including to work together as early as possible, focus on the outcome they wanted, and have fun activities during the disruption.
James Kochan said he wasn’t interested in how things would go during the project, and was more concerned about what would happen afterward. Lane repeated the meeting's purpose.
Beattie began asking for positive, constructive suggestions to help the businesses downtown during construction. At that point, all those who had come to protest the parking issue got up and walked out.
Conversations among businesses after the group left got into ideas such as calling the project the “Prettiest Little Construction Site in Maine”; providing, at least temporarily, a shuttle van from Railroad Avenue to Main Street, and taking a leaf from other towns’ plans to hold special construction sales and other events.
Beattie said she was sorry the parking issue, which no one at the meeting could do anything about, prevented more constructive planning.