BELFAST, Maine — Both candidates in the race to represent Ward 3 on the City Council believe that economic development will be a key issue facing the community in the coming years — they just have different ideas about how to bring it about.
Main Street resident Eric Sanders believes the city would prosper if the community got behind the proposed multipurpose event center at the former Mathews Bros. building off Belfast Common.
Belmont Avenue resident Michael Dassatt believes an event center should be the purview of the private sector and that city government should concentrate its resources on preserving existing jobs and providing better shopping opportunities for residents.
Voters will decide which candidate will get to pursue his vision when they go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
For Sanders, who now serves on the RSU 20 school board, this is his first run for a seat on the council. A native of Missouri, Sanders has lived in the city since the early part of the decade and is a supervisor at Bank of America.
Dassatt was raised in Massachusetts and has lived in Belfast for 25 years. Although a novice to city politics, the veteran lobster fisherman has been involved in the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association for decades. Dassatt now serves as association secretary-treasurer, and his wife, Sheila, is the association’s executive director.
“I’m running because I would like to see things become a little bit more beneficial for the everyday people of Belfast,” Dassatt said. “There is a lack of shopping opportunities and a lack of employment. People are just tired of the trend Belfast is starting to fall into. There seems to be more focus on catering to art galleries and performing arts than to the fact that people need full-time, sustainable jobs.”
Sanders said he believed an event center was “critical” to attracting outside investment into the community. He said the Vibrancy Study conducted by the city a few years ago listed the establishment of an event center as the overriding goal of the city.
“I’m running because I love the city, I love its future and I want to help aid it to get there,” Sanders said. “In the Vibrancy Study the performing arts center came out loud and clear. We have a beautiful city, and we have strong businesses. I believe an event center would make an even stronger city and draw people here.”
While Dassatt said he would oppose spending tax dollars on purchasing the Mathews Bros. property, Sanders said he was prepared to keep an open mind.
“I have nothing against performing arts and art galleries as long as they are private businesses,” Dassatt said. “If someone private was to purchase that building and then come to the city, maybe we could look at it. To have the city buy it and wait for someone to come along, I don’t think would be a good use of our money. The question is whether it would pay for itself and pay the tax dollars back to the citizens.”
Sanders said he supported a public component to the event center.
“The community needs to know that the city is behind it. The city supported the YMCA and I see it supporting an event center. I don’t think you should take from the general fund to support an event center, I think there are creative ways. There are plenty of creative people and plenty of financially secure people in this city that could make it a success.”
Both candidates believe more attention should be paid to the waterfront, including completion of the walkway along the shore.
As for big-box stores, Dassatt believes there is a need while Sanders likes things the way they are.
“When it comes to the box stores I’ll still prefer to buy locally but I understand not everybody thinks that way. But some people can’t afford to do that. They need these big boxes to survive, to make ends meet. We have got to break the perception of Belfast being anti-business. It’s a big perception, and it’s real,” Dassatt said.
“I’m not pro-big box,” Sanders said. “The question we need to look at is whether we need one and what can you get at a Super Wal-Mart that you can’t get at Ocean State Job Lot, Renys, Hannaford Brothers and two Dollar Stores. One of the reasons I enjoy living here is there isn’t one. A place for big box has already been ap-proved. When the time comes, we’ll look at it and decide if that’s what we want.”