What’s Happening ‘Off Main’: Will Gatchell, AIA

Cities across the country are looking for ways to entice people to live, work, and play downtown — and beyond. Portsmouth and Manchester, New Hampshire, and Portland (Maine) are among them. By using their second-story spaces, side streets and enclaves, these cities are able to broaden the footprint of retail ventures and social services, which fuel the local economy. Repurposed mills, farmers’ markets, street vendors, harbor walks, public art exhibits, food tours and trucks, pop-up performances, rail trails, and themed events such as Restaurant Week and StoryWalk can all work to generate interest in places “off Main.”

Will Gatchell of Harriman — an architectureengineering and planning firm with offices in Portsmouth and Portland — gives thought to the post-urban renewal status of area cities.

“We have learned some lessons. We now understand the huge value of Main Street in attracting density and vitality,” he says, pointing to HarborCorp, a multi-use project on the outside edge of downtown Portsmouth, as an example of how to both support Main Street and branch out from it. The design program for the new project calls for the building to serve multiple functions, including parking.

“When it is [complete], it will extend the built edge of Portsmouth a little farther out from Market Square—the geographical center of downtown.”

The former residential neighborhood was razed in the 1960s as part of an urban renewal movement. Today, mixed-use developments have started to populate that landscape, which had been a series of single-story enterprises and parking lots. Its unique location creates a multi-modal node for pedestrians to access downtown on foot or by bike.

“There is an alternative transportation element that some of these projects will be contributing,” notes Gatchell. “I think it is important for an off Main Street location to support the downtown by functionally pulling cars and added congestion from the city center, which is always a problem.”

Gatchell also played a part in the renovation of Portland’s Baxter Library — the original City library owned by Maine College of Art. Slightly removed from the spine of downtown, the Romanesque building now houses VIA Group, a creative advertising agency. The project goal was to preserve the structure’s history and design while making it work for a 21st-century purpose.

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