Maine Street revamped
When Executive Director of
Waterville Main Street Shannon
Haines sat down in the conference
room of her downtown office a
vitality and excitement permeated
through the air. Posters often seen
plastered on the walls of halls in the
Hill decorated the room, advertising
recent events in the Waterville
Born and raised in Waterville, Haines was excited to come back and reinvigorate the community after her time spent away attending college.
Haines spent two years in Rhode Island before she realized that she "didn't belong there." Her family was what first drew her back to Waterville, allowing an old spark to be rekindled as she rediscovered the home she left years before.
"Waterville always had a lot of potential," Haines said, noting key cultural anchors such as the Railroad Square Cinema, the Waterville Opera House and others locations are Waterville's "huge assets." Haines felt the "need to find a way to tie them all together and market Waterville."
As a "hands-on, action-oriented sort of person," Haines has literally taken her work to the streets: Downtown Waterville has become one of the most successful and nationally recognized Main Streets in the country according to Haines.
Before getting involved with Main Street, Haines actually started working with the annual ten-day Maine International Film Festival, of which she would later become a Director. While working there part-time, she heard about a position in working to revamp Waterville's downtown. Haines had wanted to be involved in the community and had always wanted to implement "cool" programs. "We live in a thriving cultural and social center," Haines said, "and Main Street wants to create a place where people can live, work and play."
Recognizing Waterville as an educational and healthcare hub, Haines noted that the town is in the perfect situation to foster cultural and economic development. "There are some great people living here [who] create a friendly, down-to-earth community," Haines said. The city's accessibility and central location provides even more opportunities.
Haines emphasized that it is Waterville's resources that generate interest and draw visitors. "People are looking for cultural and social opportunities," she said. This desire has made it easy for Haines to gain support for programs such as a yearround farmer's market and the installation of public beautification projects.
When asked about the current economic downturn, Haines immediately recognized a small decrease in donor contributions to Main Street, but said, "The biggest challenge is trying to implement our mission." That mission aims to keep existing businesses stable and to encourage new ones to open. Retail stores have been hit the hardest because consumers have tried to cut extra costs.
However, because "people want to go out and have fun," the restaurants of Main Street have proven quite stable. "A lot of Main Streets are challenged, but we are about average," Haines said. "If the Main Street program were not here, things would be a lot more dire."
Despite the overall strides made by Main Street, before and during the recession, Haines said, "Although there is a buzz about Waterville outside of Waterville, there exists a struggle from the inside which doesn't see itself in a great light." Waterville's transition from mill town to art center has faced some skepticism, but Waterville has proven to pack a big punch. Because of the Film Festival and the Main Street program, the town has become both nationally and internationally recognized. "It takes time," Haines said, "It's not going to happen over night." Most people, however, are positive and embracing of the image change in the community. Haines pointed to over a hundred active volunteers for both Main Street and the Maine International Film Festival.
An integral part of Downtown's development, in addition to local residents has been the role of the College itself. Haines enthusiastically said, "Colby students have been amazing!" Looking forward to Colby Cares Day on April 25 and relishing such community successes as Hill 'n the 'Ville, Haines said she wanted to make students and faculty comfortable by trying to break down barriers between the town and the College.
Both as community members and as patrons to local businesses, Haines is happy to accept that the history of the town and the College are intertwined in each other's futures. "Colby is essential to [the] health of [this] community," Haines emphasized. The College brings people to Waterville and graduates from Mayflower Hill have been involved with such notable institutions as the Hathaway Creative Center, Hardy Girls Healthy Women and Railroad Cinema, among other local favorites.
With the help of the community, Haines and Main Street have brought about the revitalization of an entire city. Their future plans include the opening of a new, yearround market on June 21, named Barrel's, located at 74 Main Street; Karaoke Finals at the Waterville Opera House on April 25; and an annual basketball tournament in June. Perhaps one of the most exciting upcoming events to Haines is the premier of the three-day Lumina film festival beginning on April 17, which students on the Hill can attend, because it, unlike the International Film Festival, does not take place during summer.
More than just an attractive, charming place with personality, Main Street has become a gathering place with a sense of community envisioned by Haines for her hometown.