BANGOR, Maine — Bangor Mayor Cary Weston bet a fellow councilor that Monday night’s public meeting on neighborhood revitalization wouldn’t draw more than 10 people.
He admitted that during the meeting — which drew 90 concerned residents to the James F. Doughty School on Fifth Street — and added he was very happy to lose the bet.
“I’m excited to see so many fellow citizens take an active interest and attend this meeting, because we need to hear your voices as we proceed with this effort,” Weston said.
The effort, which is still in its preliminary stages, is focused on increasing safety, redeveloping properties and improving infrastructure in the neighborhood and business areas that make up the Main Street corridor space bordered by Main, Buck, Third and Union streets.
“We want your thoughts, questions, ideas, comments, complaints and issues,” said Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow, speaking for herself, city staffers and councilors.
They got them, and they didn’t have to wait very long.
Third Street resident Tom Bartlett had three quick points to make right off the bat.
“I’m not proud of what the neighborhood is like,” Bartlett said.
The owner of two rental properties complained about drunken behavior and crime in the area while suggesting that city officials eliminate liquor sales at the Rite Aid, enact a sound ordinance for music and loud parties and move the Paul Bunyan statue closer to the waterfront.
Crime, traffic and dilapidated or poorly maintained properties were among the chief issues raised by area residents.
“It used to be a nice neighborhood,” said Peter Wilks, a Lincoln Street resident who complained about traffic running from Main to Third on narrow streets choked further by parked cars, and utility poles in need of replacements or repairs.
Walter Street resident Mike Gleason pointed out the bad sidewalks — where there were sidewalks — and parking while also suggesting city staffers add crosswalks and do something about discarded furniture left behind on the sides of streets.
Another Walter Street resident said the city must address drug use and prostitution, which she has seen firsthand, as well as speeding cars and bad lighting. She also mentioned piles of debris on city-owned properties in the area.
Lincoln Street resident Susan McLaren talked about vacant housing in her neighborhood, urging its demolition. She also brought up substandard sidewalks and poor stormwater drainage.
While many lauded Bangor’s fire, medical and police agencies, a few residents talked about how some nearby streets are still viewed as unsafe.
“My 10-year-old is afraid to walk the street alone,” said Colleen Loveless of Larkin Street. “I understand the need for apartments, but how about getting more good tenants in them?”
Rosie Vanidestine, Bangor’s assistant community and economic development director, led the PowerPoint presentation by explaining aspects of the project outlined on an overhead projector.
“I was ecstatic about the turnout. We really weren’t expecting that,” said Vanidestine. “We know it’s an important issue and the attendance tonight showed that.”
“We were a bit concerned they might want to speak, but they were ready to let us know what their issues and concerns were and they voiced them very well.”
Vanidestine said residents brought up some issues she and other city officials were unaware of.
Monday’s public meeting — for residents and nonresidents alike — was the first of two with the other scheduled for Thursday, March 1 at Doughty’s auditorium, again from 6 to 8 p.m.
One nonresident who attended was John Miller, the owner and operator of the famed Miller’s Restaurant and The Red Lion lounge, which operated on Main Street from 1962 to 2005.
“I wanted to get a feel for what people living in the area are thinking and saying,” said Miller, who is a member of the Bangor Planning Board. “You drive by these houses, but really don’t know what’s going on in the minds of the residents. This is informative and good to hear.”
Miller may not live in the area, but he still has an interest in it.
“I grew up on Royal Road and used to walk down to Main Street all the time,” he said.
“Obviously my family operated a business in that area for a long time, but I still have an interest with that commercial piece of property,” Miller added, referring to the abandoned Miller’s building, which housed Hollywood Slots before it moved to its permanent location up the street.