BANGOR, Maine — No, that shaft of solid light jutting up through the darkness and cloud cover and sweeping the night sky in Bangor and Brewer isn’t the bat signal.
But McDonald’s franchise owner Gary Eckmann wouldn’t mind if people start calling it the Big Mac signal.
The searchlight made its initial appearance almost a month ago over Bangor, generating lots of conversation, conjecture and theories about its source, meaning and purpose.
“I put the searchlight up to draw attention to our restaurant and call attention to our 24-hour drive-thru in Bangor,” said Eckmann.
Eckmann said the 24-7 Main Street McDonald’s operation has been going on since Memorial Day weekend on a trial basis.
“We want to capitalize on the potential of all the folks coming down for the concerts on the waterfront and the festivals,” he explained. “There was a really busy period during the past month where they had a lot of shows.”
Hundreds of people noticed the waving beam of light in the sky, prompting jokes and talk of a Bangor bat signal.
“It’s something we’ve joked about doing on many occasions,” said Eckmann. “I get a lot of questions and comments about it, which is what you want.”
Eckmann bought the searchlight at a McDonald’s national business conference last spring to use as a promotional tool at his seven franchises — four in Bangor and one each in Brewer, Dover-Foxcroft and Millinocket.
“McDonald’s franchises all over the country have been using them for years,” Eckmann said. “We rented one and used it several years back for a couple days, maybe on Broadway, for some kind of promotion.”
The light’s reign on the roof at the Main Street franchise lasted just a little over a week, however, as Eckmann was informed it violated Bangor city code.
“We do have a code regarding lighting that requires that any light leaving your property be of only a certain intensity, and obviously a searchlight would exceed that,” said Art Morgan, Bangor’s city engineer.
Eckmann, who started working for McDonald’s in high school, said city officials told him they got a lot of calls from residents, a few of whom expressed concern.
“They asked me to remove it, and I agreed because I’ve always had an excellent working relationship with the city of Bangor,” he added.
The portable light — a two-piece unit about the size of a barrel and weighing about 100 pounds — disappeared for a few days but made its return over Brewer about a week ago. Eckmann’s McDonald’s on Wilson Street is now the one that’s beaming.
Brewer has no problem with the searchlight, Brewer Code Enforcement Officer Ben Breadmore said, because the Wilson Street McDonald’s is in a business district.
Breadmore quoted the code language: “Any operation or activity producing light shall be conducted so that direct or indirect illumination from the source of light shall not cause illumination in excess of 0.5 candles in any residential district.”
Morgan said Bangor’s lighting code language is different.
“We specifically exclude spotlight and floodlights in our code,” he explained while reading part of the code language. “No floods or spot luminaires shall be aimed or focused on any nearby residential parcel. Direct or indirect illumination shall not exceed one half foot candle upon any abutting residential properties.”
Bangor’s lighting code also specifically forbids emitting any direct light above its horizontal plane.
The Federal Aviation Administration has no specific rules or restrictions on searchlights.
“The FAA does not have any rules or regs on the books regarding the use of searchlights as of today,” said Robbie Beaton, Bangor International Airport’s superintendent of operations. “However, one way they would intercede is if someone was using such a light and that directly jeopardized or infringed on an aircraft’s ability to take off, land or fly.”
Eckmann wouldn’t divulge the light’s cost but said it was “relatively expensive.” He said he will continue to use the searchlight, where allowed, for different activities and promotions.
He will have a few excuses to use it next year, as 2013 marks his 30th year as a McDonald’s franchise owner and 50th as an employee or associate of McDonald’s.