Facade upgrades will have ‘ripple effect,’ say owners

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A majority of Bridgton Selectmen reiterated their stance Tuesday that municipal needs are too pressing this year to allow consideration of Community Development Block Grant requests by for-profit enterprises.

“I don’t believe there’s blight or slum on these particular buildings we’re discussing,” said Selectman Paul Hoyt. He was referring to Beth’s Café on Main Street, two buildings at 16 and 18A Depot Street and Village Kitchen & Bath at 6 Harrison Road. Owners of those four buildings have requested a total of $27,000 for façade improvements from the $119,500 available for bricks and mortar projects.

The board has scheduled a formal public hearing on the CDBG applications for Tuesday, March 25, but allowed time Tuesday for applicants to speak on behalf of their requests.

Selectman Ken Murphy went against the board majority, saying he “feels strongly” that if helping a property enhances downtown appearance and economic vitality, it shouldn’t matter who owns it.

“I’m going to go public and say that anything we can do to improve façades, we should do it, no matter who owns it,” Murphy said. “We’ll be making a bigger mistake if we leave them the way that they are.”

Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, said the CDBG Oversight Committee did not name a municipal project for recommended funding, “out of respect for the discussions this board has been having.” She said the board needs to make a final decision following the March 25 public hearing. In prior discussions, selectmen have said that most of the CDBG funds will be needed for this summer’s Depot Street streetscape project, and have also mentioned Town Hall repairs and pump station generators.

Selectman Chairman Doug Taft said the private building owners could apply again next year.

Beth’s Café owner Beth Doonan said downtown businesses work hard to stay in business, which benefits the town. “One hand washes the other. We all work hard for the betterment of Bridgton,” whether it be public, private or nonprofit concerns.

But Steve Stevens, who owns the William Perry House on Main Hill and was a past recipient of CDBG improvement funds, said owners who use such funds end up paying more than they have to, because they must hire workers at labor union rates and order more expensive materials under CDBG façade program rules. “It ain’t that easy. There’s a lot to it,” he said.

Chuck Renneker, who owns 16 and 18A Depot Street, said he is in contact with developers who want to open an upscale bistro-type restaurant at 18A Depot Street. The $5,500 in façade improvements he’s requesting are in support of a potential investment of $300,000 by these developers, he said, which will have a beneficial “ripple effect” along the street, much in the same way that Justin McIver’s new building next to Renys had.

Krieg said she would talk to the applicants before the March 25 hearing and see if the grant requests could be lowered to an amount that selectmen might find more acceptable.

 

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