BERLIN — The Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce is exploring building a welcome/visitors center that it would own and operate.
Meeting with the city council Monday night, Mark Belanger of the chamber stressed it is just a concept at this point. He said the chamber would need to obtain grant funding to build the center.
Belanger said the chamber is hoping the city will be willing to donate the parcel of land it owns at 1051 Main St. for the center.
Belanger noted the property is across from Service Credit Union Heritage Park, which chamber manages for the city. The chamber holds many of its events, such as RiverFire and WingZilla, at the park.
He noted that the chamber has seen significant growth in tourism and wants to see that growth continue. He said the region does not have a welcome center and the state has decided not to reopen its rest area on Route 2 in Shelburne. The chamber would move its office out of the Brown House into the welcome center, providing staffing.
The property is in a business general zone and Belanger said the chamber would pay property taxes on the center.
A chamber committee working on the project is looking at a single-story building with vaulted ceilings and radiant floor heat in the basement and main floor. The outside would be simulated wood siding.
Belanger said they have been in contact with potential funders and there appears to be interest. Before submitting applications for grants, Belanger said the chamber wanted to see what it will cost and wanted to see if the city is willing to donate the property.
The request received an enthusiastic response from the council.
“I personally love the idea,” said Councilor Lucie Remillard.
The city obtained the property close to six years ago at tax deed, and City Manager James Wheeler said the city has offered it for sale twice with no bidders.
The council voted to donated the land to the chamber, conditional on building the welcome center.
Mayor Paul Grenier praised Belanger and the work the chamber has done since the current team took over. He said there is a crew of about 15 people that works with little recognition and has generated a lot of economic activity.
Berlin Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme delivered an update on the progress of the St. Regis Apartments rehabilitation project.
The owner of the property, Berlin Housing Authority, applied for and was awarded a $500,000 federal Community Development Block Grant through the city. The substantial rehabilitation is almost 60 percent. The exterior masonry tuckpointing work will be completed by next week and all windows will be installed by the end of the month. The roof framing and decking is done and a new roof membrane installed.
On the interior, 18 of the 42 units have been rehabilitated. The elevator is being updated and the offices, community and computer rooms are also being remodeled. Mechanical, plumbing and electrical work is ongoing. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 30, 2020.
City Manager James Wheeler reported that no bids were received for the Princess Theater.
Bidders had the option of demolishing the building or renovating the building. Wheeler said ROMIK Construction will examine the front right corner of the building to check it stability. He said he is also speaking to a potential contractor about demolishing the building.
The city manager reported Kristine Symonds and Charles Pentedemos were the high bidders for the 224 Madigan St. property with a bid of $412,125.
Winter parking ban
The city’s winter parking ban went into effect Nov. 1 and Wheeler reminded residents no parking is allowed on city streets between midnight at 7 a.m.
Emergency overnight parking is allowed at the Tondreau parking lot and overnight winter parking is permitted in the municipal parking lot adjacent to the Salvation Army Community Center.