From allowing local crafters the use of the window in council chambers to showcase their wares to rebuilding pride in this historic community, officials are determined to improve the economic status of a town that is struggling with declining school enrollments and an out-migration of its working class residents for jobs elsewhere.
''It's just little steps and little bites, but we'll get there,'' Dexter Town Manager Robert Simpson said of the town improvement efforts during a recent interview.
Not since the 1980s, when new sidewalks were constructed and new Victorian-era streetlights were installed, has such an effort for economic revitalization been pursued by business and town officials.
''It's a really exciting, wonderful time'' in which people have such ''positive energy,'' Council Chairman Marsha Delaware said. ''I see a tremendous resurgence of energy.''
As part of the new effort, town officials want to promote a downtown centered on the architectural and historical beauty of Main Street. They envision businesses with back entrances to the municipal parking lot, a beautification of the downtown area and full storefronts.
''We're trying to generate a different type of impression [of the town] and recreate that enthusiasm that was there in the '80s of the partnership between local government and business,'' Simpson said.
And that partnership is well on its way. In February and again Monday night, business representatives turned out in force to join the local economic development committee to discuss the town's future and the enhancement of business.
''I hope that we can entice some businesses to pick up jobs. ... The more we do, the better the community,'' said Peter Haskell, a member of the local economic development committee and a former long-time council member.
On Tuesday, representatives of different economic development agencies from Incubator Without Walls to the Eastern Maine Development Corp. met with business and town officials to offer advice and to explain what programs are available.
To further promote the town, the council voted earlier this year to join the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, a group aggressively marketing the region for sound development.
While these efforts will help, town officials are not willing to take a wait-and-see approach.
''We're looking for a gimmick, something to set the town apart from other communities,'' Simpson said. He and others believe the answer in making Dexter ''a little bit unique'' might be focusing on Main Street itself.
Five of the buildings in the village are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Bank Block, a four-story Italianate and Romanesque revival-style brick building, stands central to Main Street. In addition, the Abbot Memorial Library, a Renaissance-revival style building, the Dexter Universalist Church, which largely reflects the Italianate style, the colonial-revival style Brewster Inn and the Grist Mill have been recognized with the distinction.
Town officials informally have discussed seeking more than $250,000 in state and federal grants for downtown improvements that would help local businesses install attractive back entrances to connect with the municipal parking lot and the local park for a theme approach.
The concept would include installing small bridges over streams, installing signs, repaving embankments, and improving the beauty of the buildings and walkways.
''I think the rest of the community will come along if we can get the downtown established,'' Haskell said.
Simpson, who thinks it's important to maintain that sense of history and the pride in the community, agrees.
''I would like to see a community that has a healthy economic development but one that can retain the traditions it's so rich in right now,'' Simpson said.
Other efforts under way include a contest to develop a town crest and the updating of a brochure about the community. The last town brochure was developed in the 1950s, according to Simpson. Students at the Tri-County Technical Center are doing the layout for the booklet. Town officials have reactivated a microloan program and plan to work cooperatively with Penquis CAP to stretch the small pool of money.
''We'll try to use the money effectively so we can impact small businesses locally,'' the town manager said.
In addition, town officials are working on a planning grant to initiate a new manufacturing program to make modular houses; investigating the creation of an industrial park; renovating a building for a new police station; and planning for a bicentennial celebration this summer.
And just as important, town officials are trying to increase awareness in the schools about participation in local government. ''You have to start at the grass roots and work up,'' Simpson said.
The ultimate message Simpson hopes the improvements will convey to potential investors in business is that Dexter is a community that cares about its people, its businesses and its history.
|Back to News||Home||Print This Story|