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Revitalization Roadmap study now complete for Shiretown

HOULTON, Maine — How can the town of Houlton breathe new life into its downtown area for generations to come? 

That is the question a new study conducted by the Maine Downtown Center hopes to answer in the form of a “Revitalization Roadmap.” The Maine Downtown Center, a program of the Maine Development Foundation, announced on July 1 that Houlton was selected as the partner community for its “Downtown Revitalization Roadmap” project.

The final report, which was presented to the full board of the Houlton Town Council Monday evening, is the culmination of a 10-week review of Houlton’s downtown. The Revitalization Roadmap process is a streamlined alternative to the traditional downtown plan and includes an action-oriented strategic plan on areas the community should focus its attention in the months and years to come.

The study did not cost the town any money as it was completely funded by the Maine Development Foundation.

“What we are looking at now is formalizing the structure of the committee to review this report and pick some areas to focus on,” explained Nancy Ketch, Houlton’s economic and community development director. “We need to have a fluid group that can outlive any one member.”

Ben Levenger of the Maine Downtown Center conducted an analysis of Houlton’s downtown, including a couple of public input sessions held last summer to collect data from residents on what the downtown means to them, and where they would like to see it go in the future. 

The review also included an analysis of the town’s infrastructure to determine any areas of concern. The recommendations were broken down into five categories — built environment, community character, real estate development, community capacity and streetscape.

“The residents and business owners within the community have a sentimental attachment to the downtown corridor of Houlton,” the report states. “Every stakeholder who participated noted the significance of the downtown to their past, the visible decline and their aspirations for future enhancements. The common theme was that all participants wanted to see a more vibrant, attractive and inviting downtown.”

Some of the recommended improvements included greater signage to direct people from Interstate 95 to the downtown and increase the town’s presence on the internet through social media platforms. 

Among the more popular suggestions for types of businesses to lure to Houlton’s downtown were a bridal/formal wear store, book store, clothing store, convenience store, mid-level dining experience and a craft store.

One interesting tidbit from the final report disputes a popular claim that Houlton is mostly an aging population base. According to the data in the study, the largest percentage of the population falls within the 50-59 age range (16.6 percent), followed by those ages 30-39 (13.3 percent); 20-29 (12 percent); 60-69 (11.6 percent); 40-49 (11.2 percent); 10-19 (10.2 percent); under 10 years (9 percent); 70-79 (8.4 percent) and 80 and older (7.7 percent).

Other data revealed the majority of people fall in the average household income of $15,000-$49,900 (45.1 percent), while those less than $15,000 are second (18.9 percent), followed by $50,000-$74,900 (17.4 percent). Only 4.8 percent of the population is in the greater than $150,000 per year category.

Also, the report stated that 56.4 percent of the population owns a home, while 43.6 percent rents. 

Ketch said the last time a downtown study was conducted was in 2005, with many of the short-term suggestions being completed.

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