BANGOR, Maine — The threat that Waterfront Concerts might pull up stakes and move to another Maine community struck a sour note Tuesday with many local businesses.
“I would hate to see that happen. It would have a huge impact on us, a negative impact,” said Jeff Brown, assistant general manager of Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Bangor. “We’ve had some of our busiest days of the year on concert nights.”
Brown’s comments were typical of those by owners and managers of Bangor restaurants, bars, hotels and even convenience stores who were asked to gauge the economic impact the concerts have had on local business.
“I can’t sit here and say it’s worth X amount of dollars because I haven’t seen any definitive study, but it’s huge,” said John Porter, president and CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. “Our members in the lodging business tell us that every one of those concerts represents a sellout that they otherwise wouldn’t have and that translates to a lot of money and a lot of jobs.
“My understanding is everyone within spitting distance of the venue sells out, from the Odlin Road area to Main Street,” Porter added. “I’d say there are dozens, if not hundreds of people in this city who owe their jobs to this. Its impact is very important to our economy.”
On Monday night, Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray suggested that he may have to relocate the series to one of a half-dozen municipalities in Maine that have contacted him, invited him to tour prospective locations, and even made preliminary offers. That came after the Bangor City Council opted not to vote on authorizing a preliminary contract agreement with Waterfront Concerts for the 2012 season.
“My concerns in delaying the vote were to assure that we were dealing with noise complaints and to work towards a more permanent stage and venue for Alex Gray,” said Councilor Ben Sprague. “Alex Gray and Waterfront Concerts have brought significant economic and social benefit to our city, and we owe them a decision as soon as possible, with my inclination being towards unanimous approval of another one-year contract.”
Brett Stacey, general manager of the Holiday Inn on Odlin Road, said he wasn’t expecting much when the Waterfront Concerts series began last year, but he can admit when he’s wrong.
“I took a cautious approach and was skeptical about their economic impact,” Stacey said. “But obviously I was dead wrong. It’s been an economic home run.”
Before the concerts began in 2010, Stacey looked at Bangor as a stopover point, not a destination point for most travelers. He also questioned if people would continue to buy tickets and come back to shows once the novelty wore off.
“Bangor typically has not been a strong destination point for events like this,” said Stacey, who has been a general manager for 17 years. “But we’ve seen people come in and use our hotels that have never been here before.”
Stacey said his hotel, one of the largest in Maine with 208 rooms, is either sold out or close to sold out during many concert nights.
“Depending on what day of the week it is, you’re looking at 75 to 80 percent occupancy,” Stacey said. “Weekends in recent years have been pretty successful, but these concerts just put us right over the top. We’d never sell rooms that are normally unsold if it weren’t for concerts. Our occupancy has definitely increased because of the concerts.”
So has the foot traffic in and out of restaurants and bars like Geaghan’s Pub on Main Street.
“We treat a concert day, no matter what day it’s on, like a Friday, even if it’s Sunday,” said Peter Geaghan, Geaghan’s co-owner. “We’re fully staffed, which for us is 18 people rather than nine.”
“We’re probably seeing a 60 to 70 percent increase in sales. It’s tremendous. It’s not just what Geaghan’s is doing. I also have wait people making an extra $50 to $100 in tips who would normally be lucky to have $20 to $30 on slower days.”
Business is booming just as much farther down the waterfront.
“It’s probably at least twice as busy,” said Brown of the Sea Dog. “We double our door staff, or have door staff on Sundays when we normally wouldn’t, and we usually open up the back, which means at least a 50 percent increase in staff — 100 percent on Sundays.
“ Toby Keith was huge for us. There was an hour to 90-minute wait for tables.”
Geaghan said the concerts also have brought people to his place who ordinarily never would have found it.
“It brings people here from outside areas that never would have found us regardless, and they come back,” he said.
Many of those hungry patrons are opting to stay overnight.
“It’s had a tremendous effect on our business,” said Tom Palmer, general manager of the 51-room Fireside Inn, which is connected to Geaghan’s. “Typically with any event including the concerts and the Folk Festival, we do very well. Quite often we sell out. Losing those events would certainly hurt us.”
Palmer and other business owners are optimistic the series will stay in the River City.
“The bottom line is it’s a big boon for the hotels, but the restaurants and bars and convenience stores and gas stations and car rental places all do well, too,” said Porter. “It’s become a very core piece of our business strategy, so I think the city should feel pressure to get a deal done and keep the concerts in Bangor. I’d be shocked if they don’t work something out.”
So would Stacey.
“I don’t for a minute think the concerts are going anywhere,” he said. “I would be stunned if it ever got to that point because it’s been huge for Bangor both promotionally and economically.”