BANGOR, Maine — If a grand vision pans out, the residents and business owners in the “West Side Village” will have a neighborhood to be proud of, according to the planner envisioning a future for the sometimes troubled section of the city.
Evan Richert, a land use planning consultant and former state planning office director, revealed his ideas to Bangor City Councilors during a Business and Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday evening. He and his team have spent the past nine months developing the long-term proposal.
The neighborhood, which stretches from Main Street west to Third Street and from Buck Street north to Union Street, has been called the “Main Street Corridor” by the city officials during discussions in the past year, but Richert called it the West Side Village in his plan, arguing that the neighborhood needed a cohesive identity and a fresh marketing push.
“This neighborhood is not fairly treated in terms of its brand,” Richert said.
The area has several advantages, he said. It’s within easy walking distance of the waterfront and downtown, property is affordable, and it has a “classic small-town streetscape.”
Residents have raised concerns about destitute properties, absentee landlords, crime and feeling unsafe on the streets or in the Second Street Park at the heart of the neighborhood.
The city hopes those problems will be abated over time as it chips away at projects.
Among the dozens of changes and concepts Richert proposed were:
• Improving paths and lighting to make Second Street Park safer and more inviting, as well as trimming trees to prevent people from sleeping or loitering in the trees along the fringes of the park. “We see this as a litmus test for this whole thing,” Richert said, arguing that if the effort to make the park a success in the community succeeds, it’s likely future efforts will, too.
• Building an enclosed farmers market or an artisan’s outlet on Buck Street across from Bass Park.
• Placing townhouses on Davis Court with views of the Penobscot River in place of a warehouse that currently sits at the site, and replacing several other buildings in the area over the long term.
• Filling plain concrete and brick walls on large buildings in the neighborhood with street art.
• Starting a shuttle that would run from the Hollywood Casino area to downtown and back, which could be financed by the businesses along the route that would benefit from such a service.
• Redesigning Main Street to include a grassy median strip segment with trees, while still allowing vehicles to turn left at breaks in the median.
The proposal also calls for the city to help people purchase and fix up homes in the neighborhood that are currently rentals. Increasing the rate of resident-owners in the area could greatly improve neighborhood appeal and create a more tight-knit community, he said. On certain streets, especially toward the north end of the neighborhood, Richert would like to increase the rate of ownership from around 30 percent to 50 percent.
The city would have a goal of rehabilitating 50-60 structures in the neighborhood during the next four to five years, according to Richert. Housing rehabilitation assistance could be funded through Community Development Block Grant funds, he said.
Discussions about how to breathe new life into the neighborhood began last year in response to Main Street developments such as the Cross Insurance Center, Hollywood Casino and Waterfront Concerts, and the council’s desire to improve the area connecting those offerings to the downtown.
Councilors asked city officials to divide up the projects so the council could tackle them one at a time, starting with the highest priority items.
“The important thing for us is to not put this on the shelf,” Council Chairman Nelson Durgin said.