The last vacant lot on downtown Brunswick's Maine Street may soon be put to better use. Development possibilities for the land?located by the train tracks next to the Hannaford supermarket?may include some combination of a train station, retail shops, residential units, parking, and entertainment facilities.
The plot, once the site of a passenger train station, has remained empty for decades and was the subject of a previous failed development attempt.
The Maine Street Station Steering Committee has been formed to develop a new master plan for the site. Theo Holtwijk, Director of Planning and Development for Brunswick, hopes to submit a development plan to the Brunswick town council by September.
Bill Torrey, Senior Vice President for Planning and Administration, is serving as Bowdoin's representative on the planning committee.
"The College supports the development of the site for mixed use purposes," Torrey said. "We'd like to see both retail and residential space, along with a train station, should the train be extended to Brunswick."
The possibility of building a train station on the site poses a problem for the planners since it is not yet clear when or if commuter rail service will come to Brunswick. Train service to Brunswick likely will not be a possibility until 2008 at the earliest.
Service cannot extend north from Portland to Brunswick until necessary track improvements are made.
Ronald Roy, director of passenger transportation for the Maine Department of Transportation, said that additional funding is needed before the approximately $62-million track project can begin.
The Maine DOT is currently performing a study of traffic patterns in the I-295 corridor. Roy hopes the data will help encourage federal authorities to provide funding for the project.
Once the necessary funding is available, the process of upgrading the track will likely take two years, Roy said. At that point, two services will be a possibility: an extension of Amtrak's Downeaster service to Boston and a more localized service geared towards those who commute south to Portland.
In the meantime, the Maine Street Station Committee will proceed with its planning. The committee will sponsor several public meetings beginning in May to get feedback on what the public would like to see develop on the site. A special meeting for the Bowdoin community will be held on campus on April 25.
Large amounts of coal ash left over the from the site's years as a railroad station have earned the site designation as a brownfield?a designation typically reserved for abandoned and environmentally contaminated plots of land. The site's designation makes it eligible for federal redevelopment funding specifically reserved for brownfields.
Such a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency is being used to enlist the services of a team of consultants to help the committee formulate its master plan. Holtwijk said that the team?selected in March after a competitive search?includes "environmental experts, an architect, a landscape architect, a civil engineer, and a financial development consultant."
Mathew Eddy, Director of Economic Development for Brunswick, declined to speculate on what the committee would recommend.
"The process itself will drive what will happen," he said.
Eddy and Holtwijk both agree, however, that the plan will likely include commercial development.
"It will be a private-public partnership," Eddy said. "We're going to have to mix public and private sector capital." He also noted that additional EPA funding may be available for development.
Bowdoin senior Nicole Goyette is also serving on the steering committee. As part of her self-designed major in architectural design she will be formulating her own plan for the site.
She spoke to the potential for this site to bridge the gap between Bowdoin and downtown Maine Street.
"It's important to me that the site merges the Bowdoin community with the Brunswick community," Goyette said. "It's the perfect space for a connection to happen. Right now there's a huge disconnect. And with the lack on development on Maine Street from the College to Pleasant Street, students don't feel motivated to walk into town on a regular basis."
Torrey echoed Goyette's hope that the development could help the interests of the College.
"We are particularly eager to see the streetscape on Maine Street leading up to the College developed to be both aesthetically pleasing and welcoming to the public," he said.
Holtwijk urged caution, advocating the need to "weigh all the various pieces" and develop "an appropriate long-term perspective" for the site.
"We're only limited by our imagination," he said. "And, of course, our wallet."