HOULTON, Maine — On Monday, Aug. 26, Houlton Rotarian Nancy Ketch invited guest speaker Ben Levenger of the Downtown Redevelopment Services to come speak at the weekly luncheon.
Ben Levenger is the president of Downtown Redevelopment Services, which works with small communities across the country to collaboratively revitalize their downtown. When Levenger works with a town, he focuses on three things — what is witnessed; what is heard; and recommendations for improvement.
What he witnessed is that Houlton has many historical, unique and diversified buildings downtown. Houlton is a town with great community pride and character. It was witnessed that there is a lack of diversity in retail and services, and available spaces are not being optimally marketed.
The community has many residents who are willing to volunteer, and many groups hosting activities, but they often work independently of each other. And lastly it was observed that our streetscapes could use some updating when it comes to the paved surfaces, asphalt, landscape elements, and lights.
The public was invited to participate online and in person throughout the week and Levenger reported that the requested improvements to downtown were a bookstore, convenience store, clothing store, safer pedestrian intersection at Court and Main St., and a year around community gathering space.
Levenger then provided an initial view of their recommendations to begin the downtown revitalization effort. In addition to the public-suggested businesses, Levenger recommend a bridal/formal wear business, a craft store, and a convenience store downtown.
He suggested that these businesses may need financial incentives from the town, but would be worth the investment. Also suggested was a single point of contact for all development needs, to ensure that bringing a new business to Houlton is as easy as possible.
Additional recommendations also included improved signage, downtown streetscapes, and a unified, proactive marketing of available downtown buildings.
All in all, Levenger said he sees great potential in Houlton and the recommendations provided have proven beneficial in hundreds of towns they have worked with in the past. He looks forward to to submitting the final document and working with the town council on adopting the recommendations.