2015-05-22 / Community

Name change suggested for Lower Village

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — According to Kennebunk Economic Development Director Mat Eddy, a curious revelation came from a recent series of three visioning sessions in which area residents and business owners brainstormed the future of Lower Village.

The thing people seemed to like least about Lower Village, he said, is the name “Lower Village.”

“From a marketing perspective, nobody wants to be in ‘lower’ anything,” agreed Doane’s Wharf resident Greg Burke, suggesting the name conjures up images of something “less than” the rest of Kennebunk, as if the area were a town slum and not a tourist Mecca.

According to Eddy, an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats identified at the visioning sessions zeroed in on the name “Lower Village” as a “key weakness” of the area, at least in terms of marketing opportunities.

For that reason, Eddy said, the Lower Village Committee recently voted unanimously to change the name of Lower Village to “Harbor Village.” That name has historical significance, Eddy said, pointing out that on an 1872 map of the area, Harbor Village was the name in use for what is now known as the Lower Village.

“I think it’s very fitting for the historical nature of what we’ve come to know as Lower Village,” agreed Jeff Bonney, chairman of the Lower Village Committee.

But the real point, said Eddy, is that participants in the visioning sessions reported feeling the identity of Lower Village is “all over the place.” With the town set to begin posting so-called way-finding signs to different neighborhoods and amenities in town, Eddy said there was a certain sense of urgency for selectmen to sign off on the name change.

“We really want to search out public opinion on this,” Eddy said. “It’s a passionate issue on both sides.”

That much was evidenced during a fairly drawn-out debate on the topic, as not all selectmen were on board with the idea. The area may have been Harbor Village once according to historical records, but in living memory it’s only ever been known as Lower Village.

“It’s just a feeling, but if it’s changed to Harbor Village, I’ll be sad,” said outgoing Selectman David Spoffard.

“If I had a business in Lower Village, I would be OK calling it Harbor Village,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said. “I’d rather have pretty much anything than have people think that area is Kennebunkport.”

Meanwhile, Selectman Debra Beals said giving Lower Village a new, more distinct identity works contrary to the goals she and her peers have shared in recent years. The effort, she said, has been to brand the area as a single town, rather than a collection of three distinct regions — Downtown Kennebunk, Lower Village and West Kennebunk.

“To me it’s just going in the wrong direction and subdividing that part out and making it stand on its own,” she said. “I understand about having an identity but it’s not bad the way it is now.”

But Laura Dolce, executive director of the Kennebunk Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce and an active participant in the recent visioning sessions, said a better brand would build on the village’s strengths, not tear it appear form the balance of the town.

“They absolutely want to be Harbor Village, Kennebunk,” she said.

“They want to feel like a bigger part of the town, not that they’re not just kind of down there and it’s just about the tourists.”

“I’ve talked to some other locals who are passionate about keeping it ‘Lower Village.’ I get that,” Burke said,

“But by giving the village its own great marketing name within the town of Kennebunk, you actually help it remain sepa- rate and be Kennebunk, not [thought of as part of] Kennebunkport.”

Selectmen made no decision on the proposed name change, agreeing only to conduct a second reading of the idea, and to take additional public comment, at their next meeting.

Still, Bonnie Clement, co-owner of H.B. Provisions, cautioned the board to be ready for habit to take precedent, regardless of what road signs may point to.

Even 14 years after buying her business, Clement said, people still come in and refer to it by its previous name, Meserve’s.

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