BANGOR, Maine — More than 100 people gathered at the Penobscot Theater Wednesday evening for the first-ever downtown Bangor town hall meeting.
Everything from graffiti, crime and bike paths to crosswalks, the arts, parking and even the city’s motto was discussed by city officials and the 125 downtown residents, business owners and people who work in the area during the 75-minute event.
“I think it went well. We wanted to lay out some of our plans and hear what people said, and we did that and more,” said Bangor Councilor Ben Sprague, the main organizer of the meeting. “I think we should recognize how far we’ve come in the last 10 years and begin the next phase of this revival now with a 10-year vision for where we want to go.”
Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow provided an overview about current city projects, Bangor police Lt. Steve Hunt talked about ongoing efforts to beef up police presence and security downtown, and Downtown Bangor Partnership Chairman George Kinghorn briefed attendees about ongoing efforts to continue to augment and add to the observance, celebration and exhibition of the arts downtown.
“We have hired eight new officers over the last month, and while they still have to complete training at the academy, they will fill key vacancies in our police force,” said Hunt, who also addressed issues such as the lack of a bike patrol downtown this year due to budget constraints.
Hunt also acknowledged the dissatisfaction expressed to Bangor police recently with problems at Pickering Square with drunks, panhandlers, vagrants and groups of mischievous teens, as well as a nearly month-long burglary spree.
“We’ve heard your voices. We get it,” said Hunt, who partially apologized for what he said some people saw as a slow police response.
“We have beefed up our foot patrols downtown with two more officers working weekend evening shifts in addition to our regular officer patrolling daily,” Hunt said. “As far as problems like graffiti or vandalism, we can’t solve all your problems, but we can address most of them, especially the more serious ones, and we need you to be our eyes and ears as well.”
A woman who recently moved to Bangor from Boulder, Colo., asked the first public question after a 25-minute presentation. She wanted to know what Bangor could do about adding more bike paths and trails.
Conlow said city staff members are looking at potentially reducing the width of some road lanes to accommodate cyclists on the sides of the roads, as well as adding bike lanes over the coming years.
Bangor resident Hank Garfield asked if Bangor’s Community Connector bus service hours could be extended later, but Sprague pointed out that extending hours of operation would be costly and that more people would have to start taking the bus to justify the added cost.
A couple people talked about the “dicey” conditions downtown, especially near Pickering Square’s parking garage, but the owner of the New Waverly pub said he thought Pickering Square was getting a bad rap and that the actual situation was being overblown.
Bangor lawyer Sam Lanham talked about the positive and beneficial effects his Lanham Blackwell firm received after moving the business from Evergreen Woods to 133 Broadway.
“The excitement of our employees and clients is much higher and we have a stronger vibe since moving downtown to a historic building,” Lanham said.
But Lanham also had concerns, specifically with graffiti.
“Our mailbox outside our business has been hit twice,” Lanham said. “What’s being done to address this?”
Hunt said catching graffiti violators isn’t easy, and that public help is key.
“It’s difficult to deal with and while we’ve had some luck policing it, there never seem to be witnesses who let us know as it’s occurring,” said Hunt. “We will charge people if we can catch them.”
Councilor Charlie Longo is leading an effort to discuss the problem and evaluate the feasibility of increasing fines and instituting stiffer penalties.
Chris Ruhlin asked for more parking, said the relocation of the skate park between Union Street and Maine Avenue was “despicable,” complimented Bangor’s current leadership, and offered a cautionary note.
“We have an opportunity to do some good, but we can also overreact,” he said. “As much as we want to stay a mental Mayberry, let’s not freak out and overreact.”
Sprague said this could be the first of a series of regularly occurring meetings.
“I’d like to see an annual downtown town hall meeting, and we have other neighborhoods that could benefit from similar events,” Sprague said. “Some people had specific concerns, but I was also struck by how many people had very positive comments to say about downtown Bangor.”