Creating a Downtown Master Plan with Heart & Soul
Biddeford’s Heart & Soul project was focused on creating a Downtown Master Plan. On the decline for decades with the last textile company closing in 2009, Biddeford faced stagnant population growth and limited job opportunities. In recent years, the city’s image came to be defined by a trash incinerator downtown, earning it two unsavory monikers: “Trash Town” and “Stink Town.”
The project kicked off with a variety of engagement activities. The Salt Institute of Documentary Studies gathered community stories as a way to highlight what makes Biddeford unique and a city to celebrate. High school students gathered stories from their family members and peers. The project captured additional stories through “HeartSpots” where residents phoned in to record stories and memories related to specific downtown sites.
As the Heart & Soul Team collected stories, it became clear that residents did not support the incinerator, even though shuttering it meant losing 80 jobs and revenue from the largest taxpayer.
With community support behind them, the city council approved spending $6.7 million to buy the plant and tear it down in 2012. This potentially risky move turned out to be a catalyst for major change. Since that happened, as of early 2016, Biddeford had $90 million in new and approved projects in the pipeline. The 35-acre mill district is being redeveloped including a $50 million boutique hotel and $15 million in affordable housing. Vacancy on Main Street has dropped dramatically. The business and industrial park is nearly full.
Today, Biddeford is young and hip, bucking population trends for the graying state. Median age is 34 compared to 45 for the state. Biddeford’s new tag line reflects the pride the community has for its town: Biddeford, Leading the Way.