SANFORD – Sanford resident Bill Underwood thinks a tourist attraction would revitalize the city’s downtown business district.
Underwood, a retired travel and transit worker who serves on the Sanford Downtown Legacy’s Economic Restructuring Committee, has proposed two possible projects for the attraction -– an urban mural project and an outdoor adventure park.
However, before either of the projects could move forward, Underwood recommends the city hire a consulting firm to review the information and conduct feasibility studies for both. The studies are estimated to cost $35,000. Last week, he asked the City Council to consider providing $5,000 (1/7th of the cost) toward the studies. The vote for providing money toward the study was tabled Feb. 5 until after Underwood or another group representative provided further details in a presentation.
Underwood is attempting to direct community-wide attention to the idea, as well as gather business partners for the feasibility studies.
Underwood believes that with the endorsement and monetary support of the council, fundraising and partner development would be more successful, although he wants to keep details of the group and its partners quiet until after he makes a presentation to the council sometime in April, he said.
Both aspects of the tourism plan, which Underwood insists are simply concepts at this time, put an emphasis on providing a unique Maine experience. Both projects would seek to establish an attraction that would be not only unique to Maine, but also northern New England, while also emphasizing the history and culture of the region.
The urban mural project would be designed to attract visitors to Sanford’s downtown business district. The concept is based on similar projects in the U.S. and Canada that were successful in attracting new visitors and tourists into their cities.
According to the concept, the murals could be based on Sanford’s textile history and mostly Maine artists would be commissioned to work on the project.
“A mural program for Sanford could be themed around the history of the mills and other scenes or events important to the city’s history,” Underwood said in the concept draft.
Also included in the concept materials is a description of a successful mural project in the Canadian lumber town of Chemainus, British Columbia. Chemainus lost its major employer during the 1980s and fell into difficult economic times. After an urban mural project was established, tourism in the town rose, and the town now attracts roughly 400,000 visitors annually.
Underwood believes that projects such as these could help Sanford establish itself as an economic center.
“I think that this could be a great opportunity for Sanford,” he said. “A lot of cities are competing to attract visitors and Sanford should be one of them.”
The outdoor adventure park would feature zip lines, climbing walls, biking trails and camping sites. While just a concept, Underwood’s details stress that the attraction would be unique and themed to Maine’s outdoor experience.
“A strong Maine brand would appear throughout the camp,” he said in the concept draft. “These camp sites would offer a variety of fun and exciting experiences unique to Maine.”
If the money for the study is approved by the council, the next step would be gathering enough local support to pay for the remainder of the feasibility studies. Sanford Mayor Maura Herlihy, who chairs Sanford Downtown Legacy, says the studies are a preparation for a potentially larger project. She believes the group would be involved with the mural project because it would create an artistic draw to the downtown area.
Jim Nimon, the director of the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, said he thinks Underwood’s efforts, and those of other involved residents, to boost foot traffic in Sanford should be commended.
“He’s tremendously committed to this community and this region,” Nimon said. “He’s thinking outside the box and saying, ‘If we had these tourist attractions, would that get us additional people stopping and staying here?’”
Nimon sees the attractions as something worth pursuing, but says finding necessary investment is always a lengthy process.
“Part of the challenge is to decide if this is real and has potential,” he said. “You can have a tremendous feasibility study, but then you need investors to step up and make it happen.”