As the Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons rapidly become a reality on Waterville’s Main Street, the brick cladding and spacious windows of the 100,000-square-foot apartment complex represent more than an upcoming infusion of activity on the street. The project has also brought a significant economic boon to the area.
The Alfond Commons project alone has brought $14.5 million to local businesses, according to Paul Ureneck, Colby’s director of commercial real estate. Local vendors include Fortin’s Home Furnishings of Winslow, which is supplying appliances for the apartments, and American Glass of Waterville, for the windows that help create the building’s signature aesthetic.
Construction on the site started in spring of 2017 and is expected to wrap up before August, when the more than 200 Colby students, faculty, and staff move into Alfond Commons, a unique complex focused on civic engagement and community partnership. Since that time, approximately 120 workers have been employed on site at any given time, including machine operators, excavators, and skilled tradesmen such as carpenters, glaziers, and electricians. The general contractor on the project is Maine-based Landry/French.
“Our goal from the beginning has been to work with local vendors, contractors, and subs whenever possible,” said Ureneck. “We’ve found great partners in central Maine, and the results are really beginning to come together.”
The contracting work is not the only boost to the economy from the downtown projects. Colby has also focused on working with the civic and business community to create an environment where at least 1,000 new jobs will be established in Waterville in the coming years. Several hundred jobs have already been created or committed, including high-tech jobs with CGI, new positions at incoming retail establishments on Main Street, and at Colby.
Many of those jobs are in the newly rehabilitated 173 Main Street, now a tech center and office building. That project, which turned a long-vacant building into a hub of activity, included everything from demolition and concrete work to windows and flooring, and infused approximately $1 million into local businesses.
The focus on long-term economic growth—attracting jobs to Waterville, supporting existing and local businesses, and investment by Colby and many others in the downtown—is starting to pay off. People are increasingly choosing to live in Waterville, with Waterville’s population rising to its highest level since 1997. The residential real estate market in Waterville, long lagging, has started to show the effects of these economic booster shots, with single-family home sales on the increase and the price of those homes on the rise.
According to Maine Life Real Estate, “Waterville saw an almost 30% jump in the number of homes sold from 2016 to 2017” and an average price increase of almost 10 percent, making it Maine’s “hottest” real estate market in 2017—the first time the city has made the list.
“A lot of it has to do with what’s going on downtown,” Don Plourde, owner of Coldwell Banker Plourde Real Estate in Waterville, told MaineBiz.
Spurred by Colby’s investments, commercial activity downtown has also experienced an unprecedented volume of sales and redevelopment, including reinvestment in downtown buildings, the creation of new apartments, and several new shops and restaurants.