The College slated to purchase Camden National Bank building
As plans are actualized from blueprint to building, Colby’s Waterville revitalization efforts are encompassing an increasing number of downtown properties. On April 10, the College announced that it will purchase the Camden National Bank building at 33 Main St. As part of its sweeping downtown efforts, the College plans to construct a boutique hotel on the lot while Camden National Bank will move to the ground floor of Colby’s downtown mixed-use residential complex.
Colby Vice President of Planning Brian Clark has been overseeing the development of downtown Waterville and believes the new acquisition will be integral to the College’s plans.
“Our conversations with Camden National Bank really started with that question of how Camden can continue to serve their customers and be a really great presence on Main Street, but also meet our needs and desires for the hotel downtown,” Clark said in an interview with the Echo. “It really reflects broader goals that we identified years ago about what it would mean to have a hotel downtown and to have people once again staying downtown.”
Prior to purchasing the bank, Colby originally slated the former location of Levine’s department store at 9 Main St. for hotel construction. According to Clark, officials began to look elsewhere after discovering the site was not feasible. Due to a grade differential of eight to ten feet between the proposed entrances on Main Street and Front Street, the lobby would have been separated into two levels.
“We are certainly learning a lot about hotel design and issues,” Clark said. “We’ve learned a lot more about how to build on Main St. One of the goals that we have for the hotel is a lobby that is at the same level on Main St. and Front St. and moving the site north the grades actually get smoother, so we do see that as a possibility going forward.”
At 40,000 square feet, the bank building will afford more space for development. The acquisition will also include a parcel of land directly across Front St. where the bank’s drive-thru is currently located.
While plans for the hotel originally stipulated 42 guest rooms, Clark is unsure if the new site will impact the number of rooms. As of now, parking for guests will be provided at a parking lot on Front St. which the College leased last year. In accordance with City policy, the lease includes up to 42 spots, or one per guest room, if nothing is changed.
Various hotels have occupied space downtown throughout Waterville’s history, and Clark believes the new construction will help reinvigorate the community. Marketing research, conducted by Boston-based Pinnacle Advisory Group, is guiding College officials on everything from the hotel’s size to plans for a restaurant and fitness space.
“I think that people are able to see that these investments are starting to put more people on the street and are improving the economy in various ways,” Clark said. “The idea of being able to shore up the south end of Main St. and have a really terrific set of buildings where it has been largely vacant and dilapidated for a number of years is also received well. Ultimately, I think that people are seeing the transformation of the north side of the street now.”
While design plans have yet to be made, Clark believes the College will embrace an aesthetic linked to the City’s historic mills while avoiding the atmosphere of a quaint New England inn.
“As the hotel moves a bit farther north on Main Street, it comes much closer to a collection of really beautiful historic Victorian brick buildings,” Clark said. “We’re very much focused on an experience for the hotel as well as an architecture….that ties to the past but is new and distinctive from other hotels that are associated with colleges and universities.”
The College is expected to close on the building in June and will wait until Camden Bank moves in early fall to begin construction. The team of architects and contractors for the project will be announced soon and will work throughout the summer to develop an effective hotel design.
Colby recently announced plans to self-develop the hotel after parting ways with Portland-based development firm The Olympia Companies. The decision followed an alleged lawsuit against the company’s CEO, Kevin Mahaney.
In March, court documents stated that the defendant discontinued “all of her claims [against Mahaney] with prejudice.” As a result, the aforementioned defendant is unable to renew her suit against Mahaney and signed a statement expressing that naming Mahaney in her lawsuit was an error. Despite the rescinded claims, Colby’s termination of their agreement with Olympia remains final.
“We are pursuing self-development of the hotel,” Clark said. “That is a similar approach to what we have done for the Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons and 173 Main St., and it is ultimately how we will approach the development of the downtown art center as well.”
If all goes according to plan, the building is scheduled for completion in 2019. The inclusion of Camden Bank in the Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons also signifies progress downtown. Along with the 3,500 square foot banking center, 4,000 square feet remain available in the downtown dorm and Clark says that Colby is having “productive conversations” with prospective partners.
“Part of what we were trying to accomplish on this was to be a great partner with Camden, which is why this transaction is not just about the purchase and sale of their building,” Clark said. “Camden has been very creative and thoughtful in the construction of the deal and we are excited that they are going to be a lead tenant in the Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons.”
Renée Smyth, executive vice president and chief experience and marketing officer of Camden, believes the new space will provide renewed opportunities for clients. Since the original branch was built in 1920 and taken over by Camden in 2012, the space has not evolved with the advent of new banking technology.
“The branch is a great opportunity for us to build a more high-tech, high-touch branch that our customers can use and serve them much differently than we do now,” Smyth said in an interview with the Echo. “We can now go above and beyond.”
While the bank has always served the greater Waterville community, Smyth imagines it will begin to cultivate a closer relationship with the Colby students living downtown beginning in the fall.
“This gives us a chance to be a lot closer with the students,” Smyth said. “[The new branch] gives us an opportunity to spread financial education and financial wellness among the students and employees of Colby.”
By working alongside Colby and the Alfond Foundation, Camden hopes to create a lasting impact on Waterville. Indeed, the Bank will continue to operate as a prominent downtown vendor, continuing its services throughout the downtown revitalization efforts.
“We are committed to the Waterville community and we believe Colby is doing some amazing things in the City,” Smyth said. “We are just excited to be along in the journey.”