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Young Professionals seek more nightlife, housing in downtown

The Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area, an organization of The Chamber of Commerce, have created a mission statement that focuses on revitalization of the Lewiston and Auburn downtowns.

This is YPLAA’s “What We Stand For” report for 2010:

In cities big and small, the presence of a dynamic downtown core plays a vital role in the recruitment and retention of young adults. As the cities of Lewiston and Auburn each pursue a plan for future economic growth and community development, it is essential that young adults play an active role in shaping this development according to their present and future needs.

It is our intention to help shape the course of action that is to address local policies and planning decisions affecting young adults.

Mission Statement

The Young Professionals of the Lewiston Auburn Area (YPLAA) works to strengthen a vibrant young professional community by promoting career, social and community development.

To achieve the changes necessary to develop a vibrant downtown, it is imperative that we obtain greater commitment to collaboration and shared vision from our elected officials; local citizens; members of our business community; our not-for-profit community; through engagement with our current and future leadership.

In the eyes of young professionals, there are key components of community development upon which to focus efforts to achieve a strategic vision for downtown revitalization. They include:

One unified identity of downtown L-A;

Responsible and sustainable land use, zoning and tax incentives to promote small business;

Increase market-rate residential critical mass;

Transportation; and

Nightlife and Entertainment.

As our two cities continue to forge ahead with the development and refinement of municipal collaborations within our local governments, it is imperative that our elected officials; local citizens; leaders within our business community; and the future leadership of this community work together.

The Lewiston-Auburn community must know that YPLAA believes that our Twin Cities hold the potential for growth and progressive revitalization and that YPLAA intends to advocate for and work to continue the advancement of this momentum.

1. Revitalize Downtown Lewiston Auburn. This was an in-depth process through which the L/A Betterment committee of YPLAA conducted several focus groups. They gathered and analyzed survey responses from 300 local citizens and employees, who are representative of our YP population, beginning in the fall of 2008 with data being analyzed and quantified through 2010.

One unified identity of downtown L/A.

Develop a comprehensive downtown master plan for the entire, combined downtown area of Lewiston-Auburn.

Most people (nearly 60%) surveyed believe that the downtown feels like two downtowns with two identities. At the same time, over 63% would prefer the downtown feel like one downtown with one or multiple identities.

Recognizing the importance of vibrant downtowns to attract a young professional and entrepreneurial demographic, it appears the current fragmentation may be affecting downtown growth. Only 40% of those surveyed felt very connected or connected socially and professionally in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Create a downtown organization or corporation, similar to models in place in Portland and Bangor, to lead the marketing and branding of downtown activities and events.

Among the top four sources of information, used by those surveyed, to learn about entertainment and arts events in downtown are the local newspaper, word of mouth, e-newsletters and the social networking site Facebook, in that order. The latter three of these are network-based, whether formal or informal, and leads to fragmenting of messaging.

Numerous organizations currently bill themselves as “the” resource for this information, yet the end result is that 79% of surveyed respondents attended five or fewer arts/entertainment events in downtown during a calendar year.

By designating one organization as the central resource for disseminating information about downtown and entertainment, the cities could bring consistency to the brand and message about what’s happening here.

Responsible and Sustainable Land Use, Zoning and tax incentives to promote small business

Focus economic development efforts on adaptive re-use of existing downtown buildings and in-fill with a focus on small business growth.

Both cities, ideally through a joint planning process, should bring consistency to downtown zoning and building ordinances to streamline the development process on both sides of the river and to ensure new uses or re-uses in the downtown meet a set standard for aesthetics and curb appeal.

The majority of respondents (91.6%) feel that “shops and restaurants are essential in creating nightlife.” The new downtown organization or corporation should be charged, in a Main Street Maine-type model, with actively engaging owners or operators of storefronts in how to improve attractiveness for customers; owners of vacant storefronts should be approached to offer public displays of local attractions.

There is a significant consensus that vacant or underutilized mill space should be redeveloped for mixed use: 74% believe mills should only be demolished when renovation/preservation is totally unfeasible, and 88% believe mixed-use development should be encouraged.

The use of Community Development Block Grants in Lewiston and Auburn should be consistent and, if needed, expanded to provide direct support to small businesses in downtown, including grants and loans to support job creation and street front improvements.

Increase market rate residential critical mass

Residential uses in downtown should be focused on attracting market rate investors and buyers/renters to diversify those neighborhoods.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly said they would never consider living in downtown Lewiston (77%) or Auburn (69.7 %). In addition, while most respondents do not consider the downtowns to be “family friendly” at this time and would not currently consider living there, most (80%) believe that it is ideal to live, work and play in the same town.

There is a greater affinity (among respondents) for “market-rate” housing (74%) than for subsidized, low- to moderate-income housing (38%). This is consistent with what is believed necessary to achieving a vibrant downtown by leading economists focused on the 21st century knowledge-based and creative economies.

Furthermore, young professionals (70%) believe the cities should provide aggressive housing incentives to attract young adults to the downtowns.

Parks and green spaces are seen as either “very important” or “important” (by 82.1% of respondents) as a neighborhood amenity. This speaks to the importance of fitness and recreational opportunities and the desire for green lifestyles; survey respondents (73%) understand that promoting downtown living is commensurate with a green lifestyle.

Transportation

Plan for and Implement Policies for a Balanced Transportation System.

While respondents consider either city to be pedestrian friendly, they likely will not walk between the two downtowns (respondents are overwhelmingly automobile-oriented: 95%).

There is consensus that however “downtown” is defined, the current conditions do not satisfy the notion of cohesiveness that characterizes nearly every other community identified by respondents (especially Portland, but also Brunswick, Augusta-Hallowell and others). There is little to encourage walking between venues.

While 94% of those surveyed used a car as their primary means of transportation, only 53 percent of respondents also felt that parking availability was a very important issue for downtown development.

With 46% of those surveyed living within two miles of downtown and 54% working within two miles of downtown, there is an opportunity to promote and increase pedestrian traffic through the planning and implementation of a comprehensive street policy, including sidewalks, bike lanes and with a regional vision, passenger rail service.

Nightlife & Entertainment

The planning for and offering of downtown cultural and entertainment activities should, to the extent practical, be coordinated in such ways as to be within walking distance of other downtown restaurants and bars.

According to the survey, 79% of YP’s went to five or fewer events in Lewiston-Auburn over the last 12 months. In support of downtown revitalization, there must be an increased frequency of young professionals’ nightlife and entertainment involvement in L-A. Focus groups will be held on how the culture of organizations may affect their marketing/planning for the YP demographic.

The current zoning regulations may prohibit or hinder the co-locating of dining/drinking establishments and entertainment and cultural venues. The walkability of a downtown is critically important to sustaining business growth and attracting young professionals.

In concert with the overall downtown planning, YPLAA encourages Lewiston and Auburn to assess opportunities to cluster nightlife, dining and entertainment throughout branded downtown neighborhoods, such as that approach used by the City of Portland, to include possible brands of Little Canada, New Auburn, Mill District, Lower Lisbon or others that would develop distinct character.

YPLAA, in partnership with Yhe Chamber of Commerce, will work to have weekend nights “packaged” to link dining and entertainment at downtown venues. The YPLAA Culture Crawl has initiated this concept. YPLAA will also convene focus group discussions with leaders of arts/entertainment organizations to discern how they select events that would attract YPs.

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