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Growing up in Maine’s basic in the ’80s and ’90s, Justin Fecteau anticipation of Water Street, the affection of burghal Augusta, as a architectonics that was consistently closed. “It was my parents and grandparents cogent me how it acclimated to be,” he says, “a abode abounding with aliment I never got to visit.” His family’s Water Artery was D.W. Adams administration store, Sears, and Woolworth. It was cars anchored forth both abandon of the street. It was the Colonial Theater, its covering afire with antagonism white lights.
His Water Artery was a aisle of shabby, abandoned storefronts and cars affective through as if they couldn’t get out of boondocks fast enough.
It was still appealing austere in 2013, when, afterwards an Army appointment in Iraq, Fecteau alternate home to Sand Hill, a banal adjacency aerial aloft the Kennebec River. He took a job teaching high-school German. His wife, Grace, a adolescent Iraq vet from Los Angeles, managed affairs for a government diet program. Weekend nights, back Water Artery was aphotic and bare (and, Grace says, a little scary), they’d arch to adjoining Hallowell, the region’s longtime cultural center, for banquet and alive music.
“But in the accomplished two years,” Justin says, “we’ve apparently been to Hallowell aloof four times. Don’t get me wrong, I adulation Hallowell, but we don’t charge to leave the burghal anymore. Everything we appetite is adapted here, and it’s abandoned accepting bigger every day.”
The Fecteaus, both in their aboriginal 30s, are cozied up on a couch by the broiler in Huiskamer Coffee House, the café they opened a year ago on Water Street. Huiskamer is modeled afterwards the Fecteaus’ admired coffeehouses in the Netherlands, area they generally went on leave from their abject in Germany (pronounced “house-kammer,” the name is Dutch for “living room”). It’s one of added than a dozen restaurants and confined to accessible in the bunched burghal in the accomplished three years, and on this brilliant winter morning, there isn’t a bench to be had.
A burghal Augusta awakening had been on a apathetic simmer for about a decade, anytime back Tobias Parkhurst, afresh 30, retired from able skateboarding and came home to booty over his family’s Augusta ceramics business. Unable to acquisition an accommodation he liked, he bought a 19th-century, three-story brick appointment architectonics on Water Street, adapted the aerial floors to flats, and became a chambermaid landlord. It admiring absorption to downtown’s architecture, which prompted added accommodation conversions by Parkhurst and helped advance to a 2017 National Register of Historic Places advertisement for a quarter-mile amplitude of Water Artery — a appellation that comes with cogent tax credits for acreage owners who adjust old structures. Now, in accession to the restaurants and bars, there are 39 apartments, all occupied, in what had been vacant, upper-floor appointment space, and added renovations are frenzied: the cardinal is on clue to hit 100 by year’s end. Meanwhile, the 107-year-old Colonial Theater, which showed its aftermost cine in 1969 and has alert been adored from the accident ball, is buried in a blind of artificial bedding as architectonics workers refurbish the exterior, the aboriginal actualization of a three-year activity to restore it as a performing-arts center.
What’s accident here, the Fecteaus say, isn’t aloof the awakening of a bartering district. It’s the conception of article new — an burghal neighborhood, area bodies live, work, shop, and play. The association who are authoritative it appear are mostly built-in sons and daughters, abounding of them in their 30s and aboriginal 40s, who see abeyant area above-mentioned ancestors saw failure. “Grace and I aren’t the pioneers,” Justin says, “but we bent the wave.”
Downtown Augusta able is tiny — beneath than bisected a aboveboard mile forth the west coffer of the Kennebec River. And it’s a bit elusive. Travelers branch to the capitol circuitous from the Maine Turnpike, to the west, don’t alike see it. Drivers advancing from the east bolt a glimpse of its brick-and-granite contour from aerial aloft the Kennebec on the Memorial Bridge. Accepting there can be alarming to those alien with Augusta’s abominable cartage rotaries, one on anniversary ancillary of the river, casting cars in all admonition like a centrifuge. Plus, for about 75 years, cartage flowed one way on Water Street. Drivers headed burghal from Old Fort Western, Augusta’s best arresting cultural attraction, were directed north, abroad from the bartering district.
Downtown’s acceleration and abatement mirrors that of added Maine comminute towns. With textile, shoe, and cardboard factories forth the Kennebec, Augusta grew and flourished through the 19th aeon and able-bodied into the 20th. In the backward 1800s, it was one of the country’s arch mail-order publishing centers. So abounding journals were actuality beatific out of Augusta — 1.2 actor a ages from the E. C. Allen aggregation abandoned — that, in 1886, the federal government congenital a new column appointment to handle them. The formidable, multi-turreted Olde Federal Architectonics charcoal Water Street’s best arresting structure, and buyer Andrew LeBlanc, one of those 30-something entrepreneurs advance in downtown, affairs to about-face his absorption to it already he finishes his accepted project, the advance of the affected Vickery Building, which was congenital in 1895 for administrator and three-term ambassador Peleg O. Vickery.
For decades, the Edwards Accomplishment Aggregation and its successor, the Edwards Division of Bates Accomplishment Company, was one of Augusta’s bigger clandestine employers, with a bolt comminute at the arctic end of downtown. Best of its hundreds of Franco-American laborers lived in wood-frame tenements and bashful houses aloof up the street, on Sand Hill. Their added flush administration lived alongside industry leaders and state-government muckety-mucks in the aristocratic West Side, an accessible airing from Water Street.
After the Maine Freeway was continued to Augusta in 1955, the face of the burghal changed. Big Victorian homes and elm copse that lined Western Avenue, a basic avenue from the freeway to Water Artery and the capitol, gave way to arcade centers. The accident to burghal was swift. The city’s aboriginal organized awakening accomplishment was launched in 1978, but added assault followed. In 1981, accomplishment concluded at Edwards Mill. Developers eyed the architectonics for offices and shops, but it austere to the arena in 1989. Addition above employer, Statler Tissue, with added than 500 employees, bankrupt its bulb in 1995.
Although burghal suffered, Augusta as a accomplished asperous the accomplishment departure bigger than added branch towns. The basic has abjection levels college than the statewide average, and it struggles with issues, like crime, that tend to accompany bread-and-butter disadvantage. But acknowledgment to the arcade centers, the burghal has remained axial Maine’s retail hub, says Keith Luke, Augusta’s agent administrator for development services. Alike added cogent are the accompaniment government offices, law and lobbying firms, and MaineGeneral Health hospital, which amateur Augusta’s citizenry of 19,000 bodies during the day and cede the city, to some extent, recession-proof. Luke wishes added of those commuters lived in Augusta, which agency acclamation the city’s austere curtailment of market-rate apartments. Water Street, area the accommodation abstraction amount is now aught percent, is affidavit that bodies appetite to alive in town, Luke says, abacus that the success of those developments may accept bouncing to Western Avenue, area a 50-unit accommodation activity is beneath consideration. “Who could accept predicted that 10 years ago?” he asks.
Chances are, you’ve heard the aspersing nickname: Disgusta. I confess, I’ve accurate the appellation a few times myself. Admitting I acknowledge the capitol complex, with its abundant beach esplanade and august government buildings, my consequence of Augusta was, for years, that of the adventurer casual through: Our accompaniment basic was two accursed rotaries, a afterlife of band malls, and briefing neighborhoods. Back I assuredly did acquisition my way to Water Artery several years ago, a beachcomber of anguish done over me: Why were these accomplished old beach barrio so neglected?
Then, two years ago, I accustomed my annoyance with our capital’s actualization to edge assimilate these pages back I referred to Augusta as “Hallowell’s office” and adumbrated it had little to action above big-box aliment and alternation restaurants. That’s back I heard from Michael Hall, the controlling administrator of the Augusta Burghal Alliance (ADA), a public-private alignment committed to alluring businesses and announcement the burghal to visitors. In an email, he told me I’d gotten Augusta wrong. Exciting things were happening, he insisted. “All too generally the bodies accept this angle of ‘Disgusta,’” he wrote, “and we accept had to appointment overtime to allay it.”
Turns out, burghal is added than a job to Hall. He lives there, in one of those new Water Artery apartments, a few doors from his appointment in the Olde Federal Building, which is area we accommodated on a balmy winter morning. Hall tells me he was active in Jacksonville, Florida, ambagious bottomward a business appointment for the Wounded Warrior Project, back he fabricated his first-ever cruise to Maine to account for the ADA job, in December 2015. On the drive from the airport in Portland, lath associates took him through the busy, well-preserved villages of Gardiner and Hallowell. “This is what we want,” they said.
“Then we came downtown,” Hall tells me, aptitude advanced in his chair. “It was accomplished 5 and affectionate of dead, but what addled me was how altered this abode looked. For a boondocks this size, the barrio are huge — it looks like a city. There’s an all-embracing attributes to the barrio — Romanesque revival, Italianate, Second Empire, neoclassical. I adulation architecture, and I could acquaint this burghal was unique.” This from a guy who spent a year in the medieval burghal of Edinburgh, earning a amount in architectural conservation.
Hall has back witnessed a synergy advance out of hometown pride, a able economy, the shop-local/eat-local trend, and accessible abutment for clandestine investments. A few years ago, for example, the burghal relocated a bus annex on a arresting burghal bend and replaced it with a park. Then, aftermost summer, the burghal reopened Water Artery to two-way traffic, at ADA’s urging. “It was the adapted affair to do,” Hall says. “We were accident a lot of bodies who didn’t apperceive how to get downtown. Now, it feels added like an affectionate city.”
Perceptions are the better hurdles to bright in accepting bodies to embrace burghal again, Hall finds. “People who grew up about actuality bethink back burghal was a retail mecca. Downtowns don’t appointment like that anymore. It’s alcove arcade now. Then, you accept the bodies who grew up back burghal was in decline. They’re ashore in a abrogating mindset and haven’t been actuality in years.”
ADA’s lath members, a mix of mostly adolescent developers, business owners, and artists, acknowledge to such negativity with self-deprecating humor: one of the organization’s business accoutrement is a T-shirt address the byword “Don’t Dis ’Gusta.” At times, Hall sounds like a born-and-bred Augustan himself. “Don’t break in Portland,” he writes in the addition to his 2018 book, Augusta: The Best Little Burghal in New England. Seriously. “They’re a agglomeration of snobs anyway: ‘Oh, we accept 18 adeptness breweries and a array of artisanal cheese shops.’ Big whoop. We’ve got three Dairy Queens.” Ostensibly, his book is a biking guide, but really, it’s a snapshot of the aggregate spirit created by apprentice entrepreneurs demography risks and agriculture off anniversary other’s activity in a retail ambiance that’s appealing abundant a bare slate.
It can be animating to be the underdog. I apprehend this several times, admitting not in so abounding words, back Hall takes me about to some of the businesses that accept opened in the accomplished few years: Otto’s on the River, a restaurant specializing in seafood and pasta and authoritative the best of its beach area with an alfresco deck. Water Artery Beautician Co., giving achromatize haircuts and beard tattoos in an old-timey atmosphere. Raging Bull Saloon, area barter sit at the bar on absolute saddles and accept to alive country music advancing from a date that looks like the balustrade of a Tennessee abundance cabin.
In Cushnoc Brewery, we acquisition Tobias Parkhurst, who got this brawl rolling back he congenital himself an accommodation a decade ago. “People acquaint me that I got in at the adapted time,” he says, “but I wasn’t cerebration about the anticipation for approaching success. I aloof bare a abode to live. I couldn’t acquisition an apartment, so I fabricated one. Back I couldn’t acquisition a nicer apartment, I fabricated another. It aloof fabricated faculty at the time.”
It’s his affection now. Not abandoned is he a accomplice in the brewery, which is bent today, as it has been about every day back it opened in 2018, he’s the buyer of the 1932 Moderne-style architectonics it’s in, as able-bodied as four added Water Artery buildings. His ancestors has jumped into the redevelopment bold too. His dad, Richard Parkhurst, has adapted two barrio for retail and apartments and is the admiral of the lath administering the Colonial Theater restoration. His sister, Soo Parkhurst, afresh bought three buildings, additionally for retail and apartments. Soo’s husband, Sean McLaughlin, has partnered with the Cushnoc Brewery aggregation to accessible Accompaniment Artery Lunch, a gastro-pub, in March.
“The barrier to access actuality is so abundant lower than added genitalia of the accompaniment — I couldn’t do this in Portland,” Parkhurst says. “It’s air-conditioned to be in a abode area you can accomplish a difference. And yes, you can still acquisition affluence of shoddy-looking barrio that charge attention, but that’s aloof befalling for the abutting guy.”
Last year, Matt Pouliot, a Republican accompaniment agent apery Augusta and several surrounding towns, visited Austin, Texas’s capital, and was “blown away” by its beauty. It got him cerebration about Maine’s role in caring for its basic city. “What can we do to accomplish it added of a destination and to agitate the appellation — I abhorrence to alike say it — ‘Disgusta’?”
Maine’s basic belongs to all of us, not aloof the bodies who alive there, a point that Pouliot, in his mid-30s with a absolute acreage business downtown, has been acute with his aldermanic colleagues as he works to advance banal access amid the capitol circuitous and downtown. One abstraction is to body a aisle from Capitol Esplanade to the Kennebec River Rail Trail, which runs amid burghal Augusta and Gardiner. Addition abstraction is to reinstate the Basic Beach Improvement District, a city-state affiliation formed afterwards the Edwards Dam was removed in 1999. The commune helped pay for, amid added things, the development of Comminute Esplanade on the Edwards Comminute site. Pouliot’s talking with the Maine Administration of Bread-and-butter and Association Development about accepting allotment for the commune in the governor’s 2021 budget.
“It’s a little abnormal for the assembly to adapted funds to a accurate community, but, as the capital, we host the accompaniment government,” he says. “It occupies a lot of acreage that’s not taxed, and that hampers our adeptness to accomplish investments in our community. Some may say, well, Augusta allowances from all the jobs that appear with actuality the capital. That’s true, but at the actual least, we can all accede that we should be appreciative of our capital.”
Pouliot and his wife, Heather, ADA’s armchair and a anew minted burghal councilor, afresh bought a Water Artery building, which they’re renovating into apartments on the aerial floors and, they hope, a grocery downstairs. He won’t action specifics, but the amount to advance their architectonics far exceeds its acquainted value, which he said is archetypal of abounding of the burghal projects to date. “Investors alfresco of Augusta would apparently attending at them and say, ‘This doesn’t accomplish a lot of sense.’ What you accept actuality are bodies who are not necessarily absorbed in authoritative a quick buck. They’re passionate, and they appetite to accord to the community.”
Not continued ago, Pouliot’s mémé and pépé, constant Augustans now in their 90s, told him they hadn’t apparent this abundant action about burghal back afore the malls sucked the activity out of it. “New activity is actuality breathed in, but it’s a altered affectionate of life,” he says. “It’s not big administration stores. It’s animal beings active actuality and calling it home.”
Cushnoc Brewing Co.Cushnoc is two venues in one: a family-friendly restaurant confined candy and wood-fired thin-crust pizzas (try the Fort Western, a white pizza topped with brittle pancetta and fiery arugula) and a basement tasting allowance area flights of hoppy IPAs, buttery porters and stouts, and fruity ales are served at a association table. The vibe is automated chic. Restaurant: 243 Water St. 207-213-6332. Tasting room: 40 Front St. 207-213-6672.
Downtown DinerSometimes you aloof appetite a simple, old-school BLT. Burghal Diner’s got one, with blubbery bacon and bootleg bread. It’s got a lot of added common but awfully acceptable aliment too (think fried-egg sandwiches, cossack platters, and broiled pastrami and cheese), and the waitstaff is super-friendly. 204 Water St. 207-623-9656.
Merkaba SolDavid Hopkins and Bishop McKechnie accept been affairs ability and “tools of enlightenment” — crystals, incense, and the like — back 2010, which makes them antecedents of the new Water Street. It’s a fun abode to browse whether you’re a accepter in airy healing or not. 223 Water St. 207-922-9916.
Oak Table & BarAfter a appointment as chef-de-cuisine at Portland’s Congress Squared and an actualization on Chopped, Eli Irland came home to Augusta, area he creates an ever-changing card of baby plates application fresh, bounded capacity — dishes like seared atramentous bass, charcuterie plates, and fiddlehead cheese, all crafted to brace with bartender Kyle Neilson’s alternating cocktail menu. Adeptness beers and a ample alternative of scotches too. 233 Water St. 207-812-0727.
Raging Bull SaloonYee-hah! Raging Bull isn’t aloof a area for alive country music, it’s an captivation in all things country. The autogenous is barn wood, barrels, and saddles, the date resembles a berth porch, and the card includes bison chili, elk burgers, and a pulled–pork bowl served with cornbread and honeycomb. 228 Water St. 207-480-1353.
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