BANGOR, Maine — They may not be able to hear the music from the Waterfront Concerts series, but merchants from Lincoln to Bar Harbor are singing its praises after its third season in Bangor.
Cash registers at restaurants, bars and hotels were noisier than usual this concert season as increased concert attendance led to more and more businesses — particularly motels — in outlying areas benefiting from Bangor having no more room at its inns.
“Yeah, it’s great. We love it. We hope they stick around,” said Jessica Monck, a clerk at Black Bear Inn in Orono.
Despite being 12 miles away, the 68-room Black Bear Inn is routinely sold out on concert nights.
“Once Bangor is all filled up, we certainly feel a ripple effect. We definitely fill up on those big concert weekends,” Monck said. “During the [Labor Day] weekend of the Jason Aldean and Keith Urban concerts, we were full all weekend and we had sold out a couple weeks ahead.”
While Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray won’t provide specific numbers for paid attendance and revenue made from the 17 concerts held from May through September, he will talk about both in general terms.
“We never really lost money. I mean, we broke even year one and made a little money last year,” said Gray. “Are we making millions? No. Could we be more profitable? Yes, but we’re making money now.”
Gray, who said Waterfront Concerts’ fan attendance was up 33 percent this year despite having the same number of shows as last year, bristles at the notion that his business should help pay for the cost of the site development and construction being done this fall to relocate and improve the stage.
“I’m not asking anyone to fund my business,” said Gray, who pointed out that Waterfront Concerts has agreed to pay the cost of a comprehensive sound study to be conducted sometime next spring. “We’ve paid almost half of the development cost to do the work through our user fees the last three years. We have put about $300,000 in the city pockets through these three years of shows.”
Waterfront Concerts pays the city $1.25 per ticket sold and also picks up the cost of any emergency, public works and parks and recreation services provided by the city.
“Between rent and turf management charges, they paid us $50,072 in 2010, $82,786 in 2011 and $110,203 this year,” said Bangor Parks and Recreation Department Director Tracy Willette.
Bangor gets paid after each show. The largest check, for instance, written by Waterfront this year was $17,767 for the Jason Aldean show on Sept. 2.
Most of that money came from the $1.25 charge, as the shows typically don’t require much in the way of emergency services.
“We really have no issues down there. Between police and EMS, it’s been nearly incident-free,” said Willette. “As far as our services, we’re there more in a supportive role, and it’s not as labor-intensive as it could be. The staff at Waterfront does a great job keeping the site clean and secure.”
Gray credits Bangor police, firefighters, paramedics and public work employees for helping to keep problems to a minimum at the Waterfront Pavilion.
“Everybody expected as these crowds got bigger and bigger that we were going to have problems that would require more and more police, but that hasn’t happened,” said Gray. “We probably average less than one incident per show as far as issues that require police involvement.”
Gray said the only arrest last weekend at the sold-out show featuring Journey, Pat Benatar and Loverboy was of an intoxicated man who refused to leave.
“Most of our issues are EMS-related, with people having health issues or people getting dehydrated at shows on hot days,” Gray said. “We had a lady give birth at Keith Urban. She came dilated and watched the show anyway. We had another lady who had a heart attack, outside the venue, I think, before Jason Aldean’s show and she might have been in worse shape except for her proximity to the fire station.”
No room at the inn(s)
The “ripple effect” of the Waterfront Concerts that Monck referred to is far-reaching, especially for the bigger shows.
She said she routinely refers out-of-town concert fans who can’t find lodging in Bangor to hotels and motels as far away as Lincoln, Ellsworth, Belfast and even Bar Harbor.
“We also send people to the Milford Motel,” Monck said.
Hotels such as the Black Bear Inn benefit not only in terms of number of rooms sold, but number of rooms sold at higher prices.
“We typically charge about $10 more on concert nights because of premium demand,” Monck said.
Local restaurant owners and managers report routine waits of one to three hours for a table on peak concert dates.
Larry Killam, general manager of Bangor’s Sea Dog Brewing Co. restaurant, said business increases 30 percent — even on peak nights such as Friday and Saturday — when there are concerts.
“We were on a two-hour wait just to get a table last Friday from 5 p.m. on,” Killam said. “I think all the restaurants around here do very well. We’re all kind of the concert staging areas.”
Larry Geaghan, co-owner of Geaghan’s Pub on Main Street, says he loves the concerts, especially on “off nights” like Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
“We gear up like it’s going to be a Friday on those off nights,” said Geaghan. “I would say conservatively we are 20 percent busier on those nights and 10 percent on normally very busy nights. We also see a residual the next day with people coming in for breakfast.”
Geaghan and brother Andy recently purchased more land in order to expand their parking space and better accommodate concert crowds from the waterfront as well as the new Cross Insurance Center, which will open next year.
“I’m glad they’re moving forward with some kind of a permanent setup for the waterfront,” said Killam. “I think that will be a plus of 100 percent for the city.”