In what’s seen as an important step for the downtown Main Street revitalization effort, the Downtown Westbrook Coalition has received funding for coordinator Abigail Cioffi to work full time.
Funding for the job, at $45,000, was approved by the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corp. in August, and by the Westbrook City Council on Monday. Cioffi was hired in 2014 to be the volunteer group’s part-time coordinator and only paid employee.
The coalition works under the Maine Development Foundation as a Maine Downtown Network. The program mirrors the “Main Street” model for revitalization established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but is designed for communities at the beginning of a revitalization effort.
According to Cioffi, having a full-time coordinator is one of the first steps toward becoming a full-fledged Main Street program.
“I see it as a sign that we’ll be able to gear up to become an official Main Street program,” she said Tuesday.
However, the funding from Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corp., which comes from city tax increment financing districts, is designed to be temporary. The measure approves enough funding through November 2017.
In the meantime, city officials hope Cioffi and the coalition can establish other money sources for the organization, through grants, fundraising or fees. At Monday’s City Council meeting, councilors reiterated that the funds are a “short-term” measure.
“This is a way of recognizing that they need some support during the start-up period, but also to find sources to fund their continued activites after next year,” said City Administrator Jerre Bryant on Monday.
Councilor John O’Hara said Cioffi’s full-time position allows Westbrook to formally enter into a growing list of communities that have a dedicated position for downtown revitalization. But, he said, city taxpayers should not be asked to solely fund the position.
“In order to have a position like this, funding must come from a variety of sources,” he said, adding that there needs to be “full buy-in from downtown merchants.”
City administration also told the coalition that they would like to draft a formal memorandum of understanding between the parties, “with clear expectations for the next year of this program.”
A draft of that memo includes a list of benchmarks outlined by the city, and a request for monthly progress reports on each. The benchmark categories include commerical vacancy rates, retail sales data, job growth, private investment in the downtown, number of downtown events, grant dollars and more.
Cioffi told the American Journal that Main Street programs usually operate with a combination of municipal funding, fundraising events and grants.
She said going full time will allow her to spend more time on grant writing and fundraising. Prior to this month, she was working 20 hours per week, and she said she often went over her alotted hours.
“I’m committed, and Westbrook is such a great community, I want to see it succeed,” she said.
Prior to working in Westbrook, Cioffi served on a committee with the downtown group Heart of Biddeford, which is seen as a successful Main Street program. Delilah Poupore, director of Heart of Biddeford, helped the Westbrook coalition with its visioning session earlier this year. Those sessions helped the coalition solidify its four committees and shared goals for the downtown.
“I think it shows the Maine Development Foundation that we’re ready to put the time and effort in to be a Main Street program,” Cioffi said of the funding and goals.
The coalition has some high-profile events in the works right now, including a new “Wessie Fest” scheduled for Oct. 22, and a holiday shopping event planned for Westbrook Common.
For more information on the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, visit www.downtownwestbrook.com.