2014-04-04 / Community

Selectmen continue pavilion discussion

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The board of selectmen continued to discuss the Plan C version of the Waterhouse Center Pavilion Project last Tuesday, and the possibility of allowing $160,000 to be taken from the Route 1 North/Downtown TIF.

Geraldine Waterhouse, a longtime Kennebunk resident, established a $1.5 million endowment to be put toward youth and family activities, namely ice skating, as Waterhouse has many fond memories of ice skating in downtown Kennebunk during her youth.

Waterhouse’s intention, said Tibbetts who read from a written statement composed by Waterhouse in September, is to “enhance the lives of local and non-local youth alike by providing recreational and educational opportunities in a safe and healthy environment in the downtown.”

The endowment committee, which includes Tibbetts, has raised approximately $496,067 to date for the project, which will fund the construction of a pavilion and an ice rink on the lot at 51 Main St. The anticipated cost of the project is $660,000, leaving a gap of about $160,000.

The board, as it has been since the project was introduced in September, was somewhat divided on the issue at the March 25 meeting as to whether to use municipal money to fund the endowment project.

While the vast majority of costs for the pavilion and ice rink will be covered by private donations that have been already raised, Selectman Deborah Beal said she has concerns about the remaining $160,000 that is needed to close the gap, and the possibility of missing contributions needed for future maintenance.

“That $160,000 is still a big number,” said Beal. “Do I agree with the project? I do, I think it’s important and it’s vital and it would be wonderful in the downtown, I do, But to take $160,000, that causes me a little bit of heartburn.

“To sit here and say that there’s going to be revenue that comes in from this, I honestly, maybe I’m just a naysayer, I don’t believe it,” Beal said.

“We have the authority to do this, and we should just do it,” said Chairman Al Searles in reference to his opinion that the issue should not be taken to the voters.

Searles added, “If we’re going to continue to have a downtown that’s vibrant and businesses want to come to Kennebunk and stay in our downtown, there has to be foot traffic ... I think that pavilion is one very good tool for us to use to create a vibrant downtown. That coupled with the fact that at this point we’re looking at three quarters of it that is funded through donations, either time or money or construction materials, even if we have to pull $160,000 of our own money out and finish this project on our own, I believe we should do it because of the long-term benefit to our downtown.

“We have a jewel here and we need to nourish it ... we need to stop talking about this and do it ... you can’t complain about everything; some things are good for us and this is one of them.”

Said Selectman Dick Morin, “I don’t disagree with you. I think this is a great project. I don’t think it’s the town’s project ... I believe the government sets the stage for private enterprise to succeed and this is stepping on private enterprise.”

Morin said rather than allotting TIF funds to subsidize the pavilion project, “We should probably return them to our general fund where they can work for the entire town as opposed to the district.”

Selectman Kevin Donovan disagreed.

“I believe government at the state, local, and federal level does have an obligation to the citizenry to provide certain things to the public. I think, in this instance ... everyone has a comment with what’s going on with the skating rink. Most that have been asking have been across the board, many with children ... it becomes almost a focus of community area right on our main street in the middle of the business district. I would posture and say, ‘Well, if it isn’t local government’s business to do this, well then whose is it?’ Who has come forward with an idea that is this broad and this acceptable to most of the people? And the answer is, no one.”

“I thoroughly and utterly reject sending this to the voters,” Donovan said. “Make a decision: say aye or nay and get it over with.”

The board will continue to discuss the issue at the Tuesday, April 8 meeting.

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