BANGOR, Maine — Despite having debated and evaluated the concept and plan for the construction of a permanent waterfront concert facility — on and off — for the last 18 months, Bangor city councilors discussed it for another 30 minutes Monday night.
In the end, the full council voted 7-2 to approve a recommendation to award the construction bid for the $648,015 project to Gardner Construction Enterprises of Bangor, but it didn’t quite go according to expectation.
After two councilors expressed doubt over the council finance committee’s recommendation for the bid award, several others among the nine members expressed incredulity over their reluctance and questions about the bid, the project and its funding.
“I find myself sitting here in complete and utter amazement about the conversation going on right now,” said Councilor Pat Blanchette.
Councilor James Gallant was more strident in his take on things.
“I find it very weird that there’s such a difference between what is said at that table over there [where council members sit for committee meetings] and what is said in front of these microphones on certain nights,” Gallant said.
Gallant then went through a list of projects and services which the city has purposely funded and taken a loss on in the interest of the greater good or providing remediation. He estimated the total for those to be around $1.4 million.
“When you’re looking at cost analysis and cost effectiveness, along with our plan to create a new lighted path system to make the waterfront more valuable and enjoyable for our citizens, this will bring back a much higher return on the investment,” Gallant said.
Councilor Joe Baldacci, who initially expressed misgivings about the city’s contracts with Waterfront Concerts, said he couldn’t agree more.
“Councilor Gallant and I are on the exact same wavelength,” he said. “We’re not obligated to do this, but we have a responsibility. It’s time to move forward.”
Blanchette called it a “permanent improvement” to a city property.
“To delay this now is going to cost the city and the company more money,” she said. “We need to move on this now or we’re going to be right back here next year and it’ll cost us another $500,000.”
Councilor Nelson Durgin noted that the council had held discussions on the facility improvement plan for 18 months and in several committees, delaying it last fall due to unforeseen higher costs. He also mentioned the negotiations city staff has had with Gardner representatives to get the cost of the project — which attracted eight different bids ranging from $869,420 to $1,266,742 — down below the city’s projected budgetary figure.
“Contracts have been signed, the money has been budgeted and our staff has worked hard,” Durgin said. “This is an improvement to the waterfront and is consistent with our view of its development.
“I think the integrity of the council is in question.”
Only Councilors Geoffrey Gratwick — the lone dissenting vote in the finance committee’s 4-1 vote to recommend the bid acceptance to the full council — and Charlie Longo voted against the recommendation.
“I will not support this project without first knowing how much of a contribution is being made by the parties who will be using the facility,” said Longo before the vote.
In past years, Waterfront Concerts has paid the city $1.25 per ticket sold for all concert events and also has paid the entire cost for services provided by city staff such as extra police, fire, paramedic and public works.
Gratwick’s objection was for that reason and out of concern for ongoing noise issues resulting from sporadic complaints from residents in surrounding neighborhoods during concerts.
The project has been budgeted and paid for with the city’s downtown tax increment financing account funds.
Bangor Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette said Gardner could begin construction as early as October with a schedule that calls for completion by May.
KahBang Music and Arts Festival Executive Director Tim Lo addressed the council during the public comment period and asked several questions. Lo wanted to know whether the festival would also be required to angle its stages in the same direction as the new facility to address noise concerns and complained about not receiving notification about last week’s finance committee meeting on the bids.
“We’re looking for transparency and fairness,” Lo said, adding that he didn’t know about the meeting or the recommendation until he read it in the BDN.
While Councilor Ben Sprague said he had concerns about public funding for private entities like Waterfront and KahBang, he affirmed his support for the project.
Before the meeting ended, the council honored retiring Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia for his 30 years of service — the last 5½ as chief — by giving him two standing ovations from councilors and attendees alike, as well as the key to the city. Gastia’s last day on the job is Friday.