A view of Old Town's Main Street from the open area where fire destroyed a section of the downtown in 2019. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Three years after a devastating fire ripped through the heart of downtown Old Town, the city is one of two in Maine that’s been selected for an accelerated planning process aimed at identifying what comes next as the city works on redeveloping its downtown.

Old Town was selected, along with Hallowell, as one of two downtowns to work with the Maine Downtown Center on a seven- to 10-week streamlined planning process. Old Town will work with the organization as well as a consultant focused on revitalizing downtowns on a downtown and broader economic development effort.

The Maine Downtown Center, a part of the Maine Development Foundation, provides programming and guidance to towns across Maine to help revitalize their downtowns, according to the center’s website. 

Since the 2019 fire, a hole in the section of downtown that the blaze hit has remained, but new businesses have filled the spaces surrounding the hole, infusing new life into the area. Since the fire, three new restaurants have opened in Old Town’s downtown, including Kosta’s, Pepper’s Landing and Kanu. Additionally, Old Town recently welcomed a new bakery to its downtown. 

As part of the city’s efforts to revitalize downtown, it purchased a vacant building in May that it plans to market as a key space to open up businesses. 

The city plans to couple the property with the former site of the Old Town Canoe factory, a largely empty lot that runs along Maine and Center streets, which the city has been working to fill for years. 

The city last summer also tested out a “pop-up shop” mall on a portion of the former Old Town Canoe site. 

Old Town’s new downtown committee will work with the Maine Downtown Center to create a plan that will focus on existing assets such as the Penobscot River, public art, and long-standing events such as Riverfest while attracting new small businesses to the core downtown district. 

Old Town’s director of economic and community development, E.J. Roach, said the partnership will bring momentum and structure for change in the city, and potentially the broader region. 

“The impact this program will have on our community and this region will be transformational and will create more economic stability for the city of Old Town,” he said. 

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...