BELFAST, Maine — As Rockland goes, so goes Belfast?
That was a hope expressed several times Tuesday night at the Belfast City Council’s regular meeting, as councilors and audience members discussed the possibility of moving forward with another plan for a new community event or civic center.
“I’ve seen firsthand what the expansion of the Farnsworth did for Rockland,” said Suzette McAvoy, former curator of the Farnsworth Art Museum. “These communities took a risk and created destinations in their downtowns — and are now reaping the rewards. … I maintain that the civic center proposal before us is our chance.”
After some heated debate, the council voted to “recognize and authorize” the Belfast Civic Center Advisory Committee to gather further information for Belfast regarding potential costs, income and funding sources for a multipurpose facility.
The council also voted to approve the application for a $5,100 grant from the Maine Community Foundation which, if approved, would be spent by the new committee for office supplies, telephone service and public relations brochures.
Councilor Lewis Baker was the sole dissenting vote on both matters.
“One of the main problems we’ve had is that we’ve danced around this too long,” Baker said. “I think there has been a big effort to keep this away from a public vote.”
He expressed his dissatisfaction that the grant proposal stated that “it is anticipated that the city of Belfast will purchase real estate to establish an events center, fund Phase I renovation and underwrite part of the annual operating costs.”
“This is going to be a very expensive project, and it’s going to be an ongoing project,” he said, reiterating that a public vote could settle the matter. “After all, it is their money.”
Councilor Mike Hurley, a staunch supporter of creating such a project in the Mathews Bros. building on Spring Street, said that he believes it is “critical” for the city’s future.
“I view this endeavor purely in economic development terms,” he said.
Mayor Walter Ash said that he was upset that it seems as though the city’s $15,000 project study — which already has been done — is being essentially ignored by the newly formed, volunteer-driven advisory committee.
“Why beat a dead horse?” he asked. “We keep throwing money at it.”
But Councilor Eric Sanders said that the study hasn’t gone to waste.
“It’s not a dead horse at all, and we’re not beating it,” he said. “It’s a live horse, trying to decide whether it should take the exit into Belfast and live here.”
After the council voted, Ruth Gelsinger, the interim chair of the Civic Center Advisory Committee’s business development subset, said that she was pleased with the outcome.
“This is a hot-button issue,” she said. “Tonight demonstrated to all of us how careful we all need to be as we continue to press our case to get an event center in Belfast.”
In other business, the council unanimously agreed to let the Belfast Maskers Theater use Steamboat Landing Park from June 21 to Aug. 16, two weeks more than last summer.