By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
Last Friday I attended a Board of Directors meeting of the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council. During the meeting two things became apparent. First, I really am in need of a pair of hearing aids.
Second, there is a lot more to economic development than bringing businesses and public transportation to an area.
These entities come as a result of creating an area that is not just livable, but also a place that individuals seek out and want to live.
Clean streets, vibrant houses and well-kept properties describe over 90 percent of Lewiston’s current neighborhoods. A mixture of young and older families serve to stabilize neighborhoods, creating a slow, steady turnover of properties.
The condensed area of our city allows residents a short travel to retail and grocery stores, hospitals and doctors’ offices, a variety of restaurants and eateries, as well as nature walks. Then there is my personal favorite: coffee shops.
Upon moving to Lewiston from Boston, one of the biggest amenities found in our community were the abundance of private and public children’s sports leagues covering all sports. No matter the abilities of the youngster, all sports were open to them—unlike larger areas, where a lack of talent precluded you from playing. This is a huge selling point when trying to attract younger families.
During my tenure as mayor I have learned much from Lewiston City Councilor Craig Saddlemire, Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonté and many of the twenty-something and thirtyish people I come in contact with daily. Speaking with them, I have come to understand the importance of bike lanes and creating walkable nature type trails throughout our city.
The days of the sedentary lifestyle of social clubs is fast becoming extinct and being replaced by family and friends engaging in more healthy and physical activities, such as walking, biking, swimming and kayaking. This is the direction that we must follow in order to grow our city into a destination.
Lewiston’s streets, with a few exceptions, are clean. Throughout our city, we are blessed with well-kept parks and strategically placed shrubs and flowers that bring a warm, inviting, friendly, small-town atmosphere to our city. This is due to the pride and commitment of our Public Works employees.
We are home to Bates College, whose partnership and civic involvement helps our city move forward. Their diverse entertainment and public programs, offered to the public—many at no cost—is the main reason we were again proclaimed by AARP as one of the top ten cities in which to retire. This, along with the great work done with our community children in various afterschool programs, makes us a destination.
We are the home of the Dempsey Challenge, the Balloon Festival and the LA Film Festival. These, along with our summer Art Walks and our newest addition, the Ice Carnival, bring thousands of people to Lewiston each year. During this time, many experience the fine dining offered by our local restaurants. Many of these people return home and tell their friends about their positive experience. This pays dividends the following year.
Our Police Department has done a great job making our city one of the safest in the state. Our Fire Department stands second to none. At City Hall we have a staff that will go the extra step to help with people’s problems.
Our school system, although receiving a failing grade from the state, continues to provide an education that results in many students being accepted and graduating from big-name schools with honors. Those who choose not to go to college but seek a career in the trades, military, law enforcement or culinary arts find a host of offerings offered by the high school designed to put them on a path to success.
However, we have some major obstacles on our road towards success. First, many of our bright, young Turks don’t adhere to or understand the adage “Rome was not built in a day.” Many of their forward-thinking ideas crumble because they failed to build a proper foundation needed to implement these ideas.
Seasoned individuals with years of experience in their field are ignored because of their age, their caution and an assumption that their ideas are somehow irrelevant in today’s world.
Second, we have to be ready to aggressively exploit any major problems being experienced by venues in direct competition with us.
Lastly, we have to develop the intestinal fortitude to aggressively deal with our downtown area, an area that is used to define us. We must further identify and correct the problems plaguing our school system. Next week, let’s discuss the “homeless.”