BANGOR, Maine — There was an undeniable nip in the air along the Penobscot River with the temperature hovering just above 30 degrees, but the atmosphere was bright and warm inside the big white tent set up for the Fusion 2012 Awards Extravaganza.
“I was skeptical myself,” said Matthew McLaughlin, a program coordinator for the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. “I mean a tent on the waterfront in the middle of November in Maine, but it came together really nicely.”
This wasn’t the first annual awards event for Fusion — the Chamber’s Bangor area networking group of younger residents formed to engage with the community and transform the Bangor region into a preferred place to live, work and play in Maine.
An estimated 150 people dressed up and turned out for the event catered by local businesses — such as Street Bistro, The Maine Traveling Chef and Sweetest Thing — and held to honor finalists and winners in three categories: the Downtown Proud Vitalization Award, the Innovator of the Year Award, and the Fusion Leadership and Vision Award (FLAVA).
George Kinghorn, director and curator of the University of Maine Museum of Art and president of the Downtown Bangor Partnership, won the FLAVA award; Eric Mihan, owner of Bangor Wine and Cheese, was named the innovator of the year; and Betsy and Zeth Lundy, owners of Central Street Farmhouse, won the vitalization award.
“I think trying to enhance the aesthetic quality of downtown and being forward-thinking has played into the revived attitude downtown,” said Kinghorn. “In the last four years, we’ve seen an increase of 238 percent in visitations, so that to me underscores the notion that Bangor really can be a destination for tourists.”
The other finalists were Julia Munsey, Oxford Networks marketing and public relations specialist, and Dan Cashman, who produces and hosts The Nite Show, which airs in Maine and New Hampshire on Saturday nights.
The Lundys have used their business — which caters to a do-it-yourself clientele and features instruction and materials for beer brewing, wine making, cloth diaper use, baby supplies and natural foods — to encourage revitalization downtown by constructing a pocket park green space next door to their business.
“I think this is a combination of recognition and personal pride,” said Betsy Lundy. “It’s nice to know your efforts are appreciated.”
“I hope we sent a message that it’s OK to take a risk and open a boutique or specialty store or restaurant downtown,” said Zeth Lundy.
Joining the Lunds as finalists were Abe and Heather Furth — owners of Woodman’s Bar and Grill and Verve Burritos in Orono who bought properties at 89 and 91 Main St. to redevelop and revitalize as apartments and a future expansion site for Verve — and Gene Beck’s Nocturnem Draft Haus, which has elevated Bangor’s beer-drinking and beer-making community.
Mihan was absent from Thursday’s event, ironically because he had to work.
“Eric’s done a lot of innovative work with his wine underground classes to bring people in and show them different things about wine,” said McLaughlin. “He does a lot of wine tastings, which he’s hosting tonight and the reason he couldn’t come.”
The other finalists for the innovator award were Gibran Graham, president of BangPop!, which sponsors and coordinates events such as the Kid Central Festival, West Market Festival, and SnowCon Gaming Convention; and Jeff Spaulding, an attorney at Eaton Peabody who runs the Innovative Enterprise Program for startup businesses.