Ribbon cutting marks rebirth of Main St. Milo

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    MILO — The downtown lot destroyed by an arson fire in 2008 is vacant no more as Elaine’s Cafe and Bakery is now in operation at the newly-constructed Heritage Building. A dedication ceremony for the business took place on the morning of Feb. 14 with town, county, state and federal officials and tables full of breakfast patrons present.


Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom

    BECOMING PART OF MILO’S HERITAGE — Elaine’s Cafe and Bakery owner Elaine Poulin cuts the ceremonial ribbon with USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel during a ceremony to mark the opening of Poulin’s business in Milo’s new downtown Heritage Building on Feb. 14. The building is located on the site destroyed by fire in 2008 and was constructed through grant funds, including a $500,000 USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant.

    “We have an opening celebration for (owner Elaine Poulin) and her cafe and bakery,” Town Manager David Maynard said at the start of the ceremony. He thanked the various members of the Milo Board of Selectmen who have worked on the downtown rebuilding efforts over the last four and a half years as the board “was very helpful and supported this project throughout.”

    Maynard thanked both the building contractor and engineer for their efforts as a ground-breaking ceremony took place in late September, with the structure financed through a $500,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from USDA Rural Development and a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for $60,000 from the Department of Economic and Community Development. In a few months the building was finished, with Poulin — who has been in business in Milo for over seven years — recently opening up in 1,800 square feet of the Heritage Building.

    “We named it the Heritage Building because it connects our past to our future,” Select Chair Wilma Stanchfield wrote in her remarks Maynard read aloud on her behalf. Stanchfield wrote that nearly five years ago the downtown block stood on the site and the fire of mid-September 2008 served as the low point in the recent history of Milo but it also became a catalyst for change.

    The Heritage Building is part of a larger downtown revitalization effort with improvements, such as a veterans’ memorial park along the Sebec River, having been made and more to come, including upgrades to the streetscape.

    “The single most important project is this one; the Heritage Building fills a hole,” Maynard said. He said the structure, in addition to representing the rebuilding, is a symbol of the community’s “refusal to be beat down.”

    “Today is a special day for the town of Milo and for this building’s first proud business owner, Elaine Poulin,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. She said she was very pleased to provide the $500,000 enterprise grant to help improve downtown Milo, and that those driving into Milo will see the Heritage Building first when they look at the area.

    “Rural Development rarely finances anything alone,” Manuel said as she mentioned the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council (PCEDC) were both heavily involved as were Maine’s representatives in Washington, D.C. and state representatives in Augusta. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) all had staff members present for the ceremony and State Rep. Paul Davis (R-Sangerville) and State Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Ripley) both sent letters acknowledging Poulin and the town of Milo.

    “I am especially pleased to congratulate Elaine,” Manuel said. “I know community members will gather here for many years to come. It is safe to say on Valentine’s Day we are going to be leaving our hearts in Milo today.”

    MDEC Program Manager Andrea Smith said the fire on the parcel “truly changed Milo forever” but the community rallied around the blaze. “It was clear from the application submitted that the citizens of Milo were united in seeking these funds,” she said.

    Smith said the increase to Milo’s tax base, the capital improvement and employment opportunities are just some of the additional reasons those in attendance were celebrating that morning. “Congrats to the town of Milo and Elaine on this new business venture,” she said.

    “The PCEDC has been a proud partner with Milo and federal agencies in rebuilding downtown,” PCEDC Community Development Director Dr. Ken Woodbury Jr. said, mentioning the Heritage Building has been a collaborative effort from the beginning.

    “Where we are today really started in 2007 with a planning grant to decide what the future of downtown Milo was going to be,” Dr. Woodbury said. He said in early September 2008 a group from Milo visited Skowhegan to see the city’s downtown revitalization efforts and “on the 14th of September, the Sunday following that weekend, downtown burned.”

    Dr. Woodbury said that day he was by the site with Milo officials and told them, “This would represent a new opportunity for Milo and a phoenix could rise from the ashes of the lower block of downtown Milo.”

    He then thanked the various Milo select board members from 2007 to the present. “They voted unanimously on all these projects, I know of no split votes,” Dr. Woodbury said, also thanking Maynard and previous town manager Jeff Gahagan.

    To Dr. Woodbury’s knowledge, “no cent of property taxes was used in this project.” He also said town officials hope to get a tenant in the other portion of the Heritage Building.

    “There’s not been one dollar of local taxpayer money in this project,” Maynard said. He said there has been an enormous amount of time given by citizens and the business community in making the project come to fruition.

    “I really appreciate all the hard work everyone has done to make this happen,” Poulin said in the program’s closing remarks. “I really appreciate that Milo people believe in me enough to make it happen.”

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