Revitalization plan workshop draws nearly 50 people

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Nearly 50 people attended a public workshop on the Fryeburg Downtown Revitalization Plan earlier this month and participated in an exercise about what the village area could become, during the next 250 years.

Officials from the engineering firm of Wright-Pierce and the company of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, LLC facilitated the March 2 workshop, at which townspeople offered their input on downtown issues and economic development, among others.

Participants also filled out a questionnaire about their opinions and ideas relating to potential downtown improvements, sidewalks and crosswalks, economic development and regulatory issues and then broke up in to small groups to compile their answers and offer feedback, before regrouping.

Members of the Fryeburg Downtown Revitalization Committee include Jennifer Regan, Kristen McDermott, Alan Trumbull, Gene Berghoffen, Cliff Hall and Rick Eastman.

Amanda Bunker, a land use planner from Wright-Pierce, explained how the workshop would run and what progress had been made, so far, during prior “kick-off” meetings with the Downtown Revitalization Committee.

The goals of the Downtown Revitalization Plan are to: “improve the downtown image for a ‘healthier’ downtown; have it based on community buy-in with broad support; create a child- and family-friendly downtown; attract new businesses and support existing downtown businesses; identify themes and ‘branding’ ideas; incorporate the history of the downtown; and develop an ‘actionable’ plan with priorities and funding.”

According to Bunker, the Downtown Revitalization Plan will be developed and refined following the March 2 workshop, after which a second public workshop will take place prior to the plan being finalized.

Previously identified as “assets” or “what’s working for the town,” Bunker said, were: the Village scale and architectural character; walkability; mountain views to the northwest; downtown businesses; downtown parking; Fryeburg Academy; natural resources/outdoor recreation; Fryeburg Fair; and a sense of community.

Items identified as “weaknesses” or “where things fall short” include: sidewalk/crosswalk conditions; area with poor visual character; bicycle “infrastructure”; on-street parking; traffic speeds, safety; building conditions; building vacancies; utilities, sewer/septic; promotion for Downtown; and regulatory environment.

Listed as “opportunities” or “ideas to begin with” are: enhance existing sidewalks/crosswalks; properties with redevelopment potential; Downtown arts and culture, Fryeburg Academy; cater to local residents’ needs; more bicycle infrastructure and promotion; more outdoor recreation business development; incentives for private Downtown improvements; expand local shopping and services (versus regional); and strengthen (simplify?) the regulatory environment.

Some ideas discussed included traffic calming, streetscape design, façade improvements and “four-seasons considerations.”

There was also an explanation of “business clusters” and the four ways of looking at them: the geographical cluster — interconnected industries in a specific area; sectoral cluster — a cluster of businesses operating together from within the same commercial sector, e.g., machining; horizontal cluster — interconnections between businesses at a sharing of resources level, e.g., knowledge management; and vertical cluster, i.e., a supply chain cluster. Some examples of business clusters in Fryeburg include restaurants, campgrounds, insurance companies, auto parts, machining and steelwork (also regional), and stand alone, Fryeburg Academy. Application of business clusters to the Downtown Plan could include: what kind of demands can be drawn from existing businesses and be served by the downtown; are there like or individual businesses that presently create a draw to the downtown; are the correct resources being supplied to existing businesses to help them succeed; what businesses in a cluster, or in general, have not been included that should be; and what are the appropriate ways to market the downtown, based on the businesses that the town needs and wants.

The Downtown Revitalization Committee members want community members to let them know what other issues are important to them and what other ideas townspeople might have, when it comes to envisioning the long-term future of the Downtown.

Figures compiled by the Committee and facilitators show that Fryeburg has 13%, or $42,262,000 of retail sales in Oxford County, which had total retail sales of $352,782,000. Fryeburg has 2.5% of the population of Oxford County.

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