Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 26, 2012
CED consultant outlines strategy for Castine’s revitalization
Downtown Network reps visit Castine
Representatives from the Downtown Network Program and other interested parties tour the MMA waterfront on June 18, guided by Hugh Porter, MMA's Director of Admissions. From left, Dan Graziano, co-owner of new Main Street business Lucky Hill, Rochelle Bohm, of Maine Preservation, Roxanne Eflin, of the Maine Development Foundation, CED chairman Pat Bishop, Annaleis Hafford, of Olver Associates, the firm behind Castine's master infrastructure improvement plan, consultant Sue Walsh and Porter.
In a proposal submitted to the town by community and economic development consultant Sue Walsh, she provided a framework for “maintaining, enhancing and creating economic activity” to ensure the long-term viability of Castine “for all residents.”
Walsh was hired in February to work with the Community & Economic Development committee to write the proposal. Her part-time services were extended for a year at town meeting in May.
Town selectmen unanimously approved the proposal at their July 16 meeting, two days before representatives from Maine Community Foundation’s Downtown Network Program toured Castine.
Castine was named a Downtown Network Community in May, after applying to the state program that helps communities advance preservation-based, downtown economic development.
Walsh said that she studied the Downtown Network Program’s strategy for revitalization when writing her proposal. “What [representatives] did have to say meshed very well with what I had to say,” she said of the program representatives’ initial response during their tour. A written report from the Downtown Network Program will come in four to six weeks.
One concept the program recommends is using a “three-legged stool” of residents and volunteers, merchants, and the municipality to achieve goals.
An “Economic & Community Development Strategy”
Walsh’s proposal stresses its own three-legged stool: revitalizing the commercial district; marketing Castine as a destination and a year-round community; and using the Maine Maritime Academy population as an economic and community force.
“The academy has to be a part of [development],” Walsh said in a recent telephone interview. “They’re our largest employer and [make] up a huge chunk of our population.”
Walsh said Castine’s population is fairly constant year-round, with its demographic switching between summer tourists and school-year students.
“What is required is a seasonal shift in the goods and services available in Castine and in the community activities offered so as to accommodate this shift in demographics,” she writes in her proposal.
She suggests identifying and providing goods and services for the MMA students and staff, engaging them in community activities, and working with MMA to “identify and attract businesses in the marine-related sector.”
Marketing suggestions include a campaign to target the “cruising” market, thus, the recommendation to “continue collaboration with MMA for redevelopment of Castine’s waterfront.” However, any waterfront plans are contingent on MMA building its new ABS Engineering Building on campus, which will house facilities currently located on the waterfront. (When the MMA Board of Trustees met in May, they said a decision on a construction timeline for the ABS building would be on the agenda for an August 10 board meeting. The town planning board approved the site plan in June.)
Walsh said the new leadership at MMA has shown a commitment to be “a good citizen of Castine.” MMA President Bill Brennan is a member of the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, and MMA Commandant of Midshipmen Jeff Loustaunau and Rhonda Varney of MMA’s conferences department are members of the CED, a subcommittee of the CPIC.
Other marketing ideas in Walsh’s proposal are promoting tourism and the year-round community through social networking outlets like Facebook, a website, advertising in magazines that focus on Maine and promoting Castine as a wedding and corporate retreat destination.
Supporting existing businesses, and encouraging new ones by providing access to existing state resources, workshops, establishing a network of local mentors, and even micro-loans will help sustain and increase the commercial district and Castine’s economy.
The proposal also touches on CPIC goals, such as affordable housing and zoning revisions to encourage economic development. “There’s been a lot of changes in the last couple of years in how the town looks at itself,” Walsh said. “There’s more of a commitment and an open mind.”
Walsh’s proposal is available online at castine.me.us. She works from Emerson Hall Tuesday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to around 1 or 2 p.m., and the CED meets on Wednesday mornings at 10 at the same place.
“Economic and community development is a long-term commitment,” Walsh said. “It takes small, incremental steps.”