On a Saturday morning in March, more than 150 people spent three hours at Bath’s Winter Street Center for the Downtown Tomorrow forum, talking about what they love about their town and where there could be improvements.
The forum was sponsored by the city of Bath and Main Street Bath, a nonprofit downtown revitalization program originated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was just one step in a multipronged strategic planning process by the two organizations to check in with the community about the future direction of the city.
Several factors are spurring the city and Main Street Bath to solicit feedback from the city’s residents, said Andrew Deci, the city’s director of planning and development
- The city has made much positive progress in revitalizing its historic downtown;
- Main Street Bath, which played a significant role in that revitalization process, is at a place where it needs to decide its future now that the downtown is on solid footing;
- The city is starting a review process of its comprehensive plan;
- And more people and developers are showing an interest in the city.
Both the city and Main Street Bath want to understand who is living and working in Bath and how they’re living, working, and recreating in the city; what Bath residents want from the downtown, such as how it is being used or could be used; and what services are being provided or would be beneficial to provide.
From this process, said Mari Eosco, chairwoman of Bath’s city council and interim director of Main Street Bath, “We can say this is what our community is and this is what our community wants so there’s no question about that as people are coming in. It’s important we know who we are and who we want to be and that we aren’t letting someone else dictate it.”
From Main Street Bath’s perspective, the information gleaned from the Downtown Tomorrow process will help the organization figure out how to develop going forward, she said.
When Main Street Bath was first created in the city 15 years ago, its purpose was to help the city revitalize its historic downtown. Now that that goal has been achieved, it needs to evaluate its role in the city, she said. How can it best serve the needs of the city? Does the organization shrink or does it grow? If it grows, what model does it need to adopt to fund its growth?
“We want to home in on what our vision and mission are and figure out what we’re currently doing that matches a possible new vision and mission, that aligns with the vision and mission, and get rid of things that don’t match with those,” she said.
From the city’s perspective, the Downtown Tomorrow process will aid in the city’s review and update of the 10-year-old comprehensive plan, said Deci. The formal review and update process, which will begin in the fall, is just an update—not the creation of a whole new comprehensive plan—to see if the plan put in place a decade ago has been and is still effective and if there are new threats or opportunities that the city needs to respond to.
“With positive growth and positive change come new threats and new issues,” he said, like ensuring Bath is an affordable place to live for everyone. “As we become a more exciting place, is that a threat (having housing that is affordable) that will continue to grow? And what are we going to do to make sure that there’s an opportunity for everyone?”
Main Street Bath applied for and received a grant to help support the Downtown Tomorrow process. Additional costs are being split between the organization, the city, and the Davenport Trust Fund, a Bath-based foundation that offers financial support to a variety of local organizations and educational scholarships to area high school students.
The results of the Downtown Tomorrow process will be made public in the coming months, but no timeline has been set for the release of information, said Eosco.
COURTESY BATH TOMORROW