More than 130 years ago, USM was established with the opening of the Academy Building on a hill in a small village nine miles from Portland.
Despite obvious connections, relations between USM and the town of Gorham seem to be at a standstill, unable to properly communicate. Whether it be unfair restrictions on Greek life, or the highly unfavorable reaction to the short-lived “Church Performing Arts Center,” Gorham townspeople do not often seem to be on the side of USM students.
All is not lost, however, as Gorham businesses benefit from USM being nearby. The Portland Press Herald asserted in a recent article that businesses are hoping for more revenue from USM students. Currently, the USM student body is an untapped resource for Gorham businesses, as many students leave the town to find items they need.
On top of that, many USM students leave on the weekends for a variety of reasons. For quite a few, the ultimate reason is boredom. They find the Gorham campus and its surrounding town to be lacking in nightlife and venues to socialize.
As President Theo Kalikow noted in the Portland Press Herald article, new businesses such as a tea house or movie theater would be a sure way to attract more students to downtown Gorham. I love going to the movies, but in Gorham, your only option is Redbox. It’s not bad, but for new movies you need to drive to Westbrook, Saco or South Portland.
The bottom line is that Gorham is missing out on 1,200 students and their wallets. Many students have thin wallets to begin with, and bringing in more businesses could bring more jobs for students and circulate more money within the community. If each student spent, on average, $5 per week somewhere in Gorham, that would be $6,000 per week in revenue. Over the course of the school year, that amounts to $192,000 spent by USM students.
So Gorham, who needs whom?
While I can guarantee not every student spends money in Gorham each week, many spend more than $5. Were there more opportunities to spend money, they would be more likely to invest back into the Main Street businesses.
When I worked at a local restaurant in downtown Gorham, we always braced for big events at USM. Craft fairs and admission events would bring over 1,000 guests to the campus, and brought in large weekend revenues for businesses.
The signs could be positive. USM’s future will likely be one filled with discussion about the sustainability of a three-campus university, and certainly our current system isn’t perfect.
Could USM, one day, become unhinged and split off into three separate universities? Perhaps, but it could also stay the same.
It is clear, above all else, that Gorham and USM are linked, whether they want to be or not. We need to make the best of it. Gorham could exist without USM perhaps, but it would be much weaker than it is now. USM’s more than 500 jobs would disappear, and the sporting events that locals rely on for cheap entertainment would be gone. Let’s be frank – what else is there in Gorham to draw revenue?
The two must work together for the good of both. Gorham is a wonderful town – the perfect setting for a residential community. The university is moving toward working with the local people to ensure a harmonious partnership that benefits both parties.
Together, we can create a larger sense of community within the town of Gorham that transcends campus borders and town lines and stretches throughout southern Maine. By having bases in Gorham, Portland, Lewiston and online, USM serves thousands of students with an attainable education. If we can link those campuses to their surrounding communities a bit more, it will be more profitable in the long run both financially and socially. After all – USM may be a school of multiple campuses, but we are one community (or at least we could be with a little effort).