In the nearly 10 years since the town’s paper mill closed, Bucksport’s Main Street has been revamped. But continued growth has been stymied by a lack of remaining space, leading some officials to wonder if there are better ways for the town to use its prime real estate.
Earlier this month, members of the Town Council questioned the use of a town-owned lot that currently is home to the Bucksport Historical Society museum, as well as other properties. The museum — an old railroad station — sits along the Penobscot River, in the middle of the rebounding Main Street.
The museum is only open for about 12 hours a week in the months of July and August, causing some council members to consider if these types of commercially lucrative town-owned properties should be used differently to spur more economic growth in Bucksport.
The conversation comes as the historical society has asked the town for help with a moisture problem, and as Bucksport is eager for more shops and restaurants downtown.
“If you want a vibrant Main Street, which is what the community has said, I don’t see how something open 90 hours, 100 hours a year, achieves that,” said Mark Eastman, a council member, at the council’s Nov. 17 meeting.
Councilors wondered if either the building, which the society owns, could be moved off the town-owned land to make room for another business that could bring more people to town or if the society could set up shop elsewhere.
“I feel it has a place,” Eastman said. “But it doesn’t have to be on Main Street.”
It’s not clear if the town could actually force the society to move, and no councilor has mentioned going to that level.
Lifting the museum up and putting a new basement underneath could solve the moisture issue that endangers the society’s collection, according to council member Paul Bissonnette. But he wasn’t sure such an investment would end up being worth the effort.
“It still begs the question whether that’s the best use of that space on Main Street,” Bissonnette said.
In a similar vein, Rich Rotella, the town’s community and economic development director, wondered if, at some point, the town should move its municipal offices off Main Street to make room for more businesses.
The town office is right on the water, next to the walking path that attracts locals and tourists alike.
“We’re on the wrong side of the road,” he told the council. “We should not be on the river.”
The conversation around whether the town should vacate its properties along the waterfront has largely been done informally. There are no immediate plans to sell the properties. The historical society renovation request has been kicked over to the council’s infrastructure committee, and there are no official plans to change anything.
For its part, the society seems to have no interest in leaving Main Street. In a letter to the council, it said the museum drew visitors from across the country and its members “firmly believe Main Street businesses often benefit from these visitors from away.”
If the town were to help the historical society lift the building and add a lower level, the town could use the basement for its own purposes, potentially for a retail shop. But if the town doesn’t want to, the society plans to stay put.
“If you conclude the project is not in the town’s best interest, then we shall continue to operate in our present location with the attendant moisture problems,” the society wrote.