MILLINOCKET, Maine — A group dedicated to revitalizing downtown in the face of high unemployment and a stagnant economy has folded because of lack of participation, its leader said Wednesday.
“We are out of steam. The people running it are business owners for the most part, so it has been really hard to get things developed and moving forward [given their other responsibilities],” Marsha Donahue, chairman of the board of directors of the Millinocket Downtown Revitalization Committee, said. “We have accomplished four or five projects in downtown, and we are really happy about that.”
Town Councilor Michael Madore said he regretted the group’s demise.
“There was a core group of dedicated people, but the momentum never materialized like they hoped,” Madore said Wednesday. “Still, they did do some nice projects while they were active, and their effort is appreciated.”
Donahue announced the group’s end on its Facebook page Tuesday. The page had drawn 738 subscribers. The committee formed about two years ago. It never had formal membership. Attendance at its monthly meetings, which ended in May, once drew as many as 24 people, including Madore and council Chairman Richard Angotti Jr., who attended regularly, Donahue said.
The committee restored the downtown gazebo; hung banners designed by Donahue, an artist who runs a downtown gallery, on Central and Penobscot avenues; put a welcome sign on Central Street; and created a downtown visitors center that is open on weekends, she said.
The group’s work likely will be taken up by other organizations about town, Donahue said.
A group called Our Katahdin, which advertises itself as an all-volunteer nonprofit organization working to promote community and economic development in the Katahdin region, assisted the committee with its fundraising, Donahue said. Created by former resident Sean DeWitt, OurKatahdin.com catalogs and collects donations for many of the region’s volunteer efforts.
Our Katahdin volunteers eclipsed the committee with their excellent work, Donahue said.
“I think Our Katahdin really has the connection to the native supports that live here or don’t. They have a terrific team of incredibly capable people running it,” Donahue said. “They really have it all together.”
There Ain’t No ‘Mill’ In Ocket, another all-volunteer organization, hopes to add solar-powered lights to areas of downtown and Hillcrest Park. The Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce also is active, and the towns of East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket are working together on the Katahdin Area Recovery and Expansion committee. KARE distributes $150,000 annually to area businesses via a fund contributed by a former mill owner.
Weather permitting, There Ain’t No ‘Mill’ In Ocket volunteer organizer Amy Collinsworth of Millinocket hopes to plant trees and do other groundskeeping work at Hillcrest this weekend as part of the group’s plan to renovate the park. Anyone interested in helping should contact her at email@example.com or on Facebook, she said.
Outside KARE’s distribution of funds, the region lacks an economic development agency. Nor do the Katahdin towns have personnel or formal plans directed specifically at economic development or grant writing despite the loss of about 450 well-paying jobs with the closure of two region paper mills in 2008 and 2014, unemployment that typically runs double the state average and declining population and state aid that for about a decade has forced town government and school budget cuts.
With the passage of the town’s most recent budget, council members plan to start brainstorming economic development initiatives “and maybe have a chance of forming a committee for just that purpose,” Madore said, “plus do some demolition of forsaken buildings.”
The lack of town plans for storefront revitalization or building demolition was one of the things that stymied the committee, Donahue said.
“The town has a tight fist on what they want to do about that,” Donahue said. “If you can’t take care of your blighted buildings, what can you take care of?”